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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Doctors Struggle To Provide Care After Typhoon

Many hospitals were destroyed or severely damaged in last week’s devastating typhoon in the Philippines. In many cases, the hospitals that are treating patients are trying to rebuild at the same time — without electricity.

NPR’s Jason Beaubien is in Tacloban and joins Here & Now’s Robin Young with details of the continuing relief effort. (See the slideshow above for photos of Tacloban tweeted by NPR’s Russell Lewis.)

“My sense is that this is still a massive disaster—it still has affected a huge part of the Philippines. But my sense is that things are getting better—it feels like things are improving. And, here in Tacloban, what is just so striking is that they have cleared the streets incredibly quickly compared to some other disasters that I have covered. People are out there; people are working … but when you look at what’s happening here, you can see, look it’s going to get done,” said Beaubien.

Meantime, Doctors Without Borders is working to set up medical care on the island of Samar, the first area hit by Typhoon Haiyan.

Dr. Natasha Reyes, emergency coordinator for Doctors without Borders in the Philippines, just returned from Guiuan in Eastern Samar, and joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss the current situation.

“The whole town was damaged—I have not seen any house that has had a roof left. Upon assessing the needs, we saw that the people are lacking food, there is some water, but the quality of that is not assured. What is most concerning for me, of course, as a doctor, is that the general hospital which provides care for over 60,000 people has no roof, the x-ray machine has been rained on, so it’s quite devastating,” said Reyes.

Reyes says she and other doctors are trying to get medical care to people who were injured in the storm, but also to people who have chronic conditions — from diabetes to seizure disorders — who may now be forced to go without their medicine.





And now to the Philippines where the push continues to get medical care to victims of Typhoon Haiyan. The New York Times reports that there are now 62 medical teams working in hard-hit areas. Dr. Natasha Reyes is the emergency director of the Doctors Without Borders in the Philippines. We spoke with her last week. She's now in Cebu City and just returned from Samar Island and the town of Guiuan where the storm first hit. Dr. Reyes, what did you see there?

DR. NATASHA REYES: The whole town was damaged, I did not see any house that had a roof left. Upon assessing the needs, we saw that the people are lacking food. There is some water, but the quality of that is not assured. What is more concerning for me, of course, as a doctor is that the hospital - the general hospital, which provides care for over 60,000 people has no roof. The X-ray machine has been rained on. So it's quite devastating.

YOUNG: How many people do you think are going to die because they can't get medical care? We read an article about a man who'd only had a broken leg and yet, he died because infection set in. Are you worried about that?

REYES: I am worried about that. I can't say how many will die, but I am worried about that because relatively small wounds can become infected. But also, you have many people with chronic diseases: hypertension, diabetes, children with seizure disorders who don't have medicines that they have to take to stay healthy. And without their medicine, they can become very ill or they can die. And that is why we're trying very hard to set up our medical activities as quickly as possible to resume the health care delivery.

YOUNG: Yeah. How are the people of Guiuan responding to this? They were the first to be hit, a smaller island. Of course, Tacloban a much bigger area, an urban area, more people there, but how - where the people of Guiuan feeling neglected? Do they understand the scope of the storm?

REYES: They do understand the scope of the storm. I think they were completely shocked by the impact and the strength of the storm. The people of Guiuan are used to typhoons. Typhoons have passed them before, but this is beyond anything that they could expect or imagine, and with that comes the mental health trauma. What I see now is that they are doing their best to pick up their lives. And what is most impressive to me is that the support of the health medical staff. They are victims themselves, but they've been working so hard to treat their fellow townspeople. And they're exhausted, but they're still there. We're helping them do it. So, yes, the fact that the people in Guiuan were shocked, as you would expect, but their strength is what is really impressing me right now.

YOUNG: Dr. Natasha Reyes, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in the Philippines. And she's speaking to us from Cebu City about her trips to Guiuan, a fishing island. The first hit by Typhoon Haiyan. Dr. Reyes, thank you so much.

REYES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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