Philippines Typhoon: MSF surgeon speaks from the disaster zone

15 Nov 2013
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Patients are being treated as surgeon Dr Johan von Schreeb and an MSF emergency team set up medical services in east Samar Island, an area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. They are eastablishing mobile clinics to reach isolated parts of the coast and islands, and outpatient services in Guiuan town itself.

Virtually every building in Guiuan was destroyed and the local hospital is not functioning. MSF will be providing water and sanitation services and assist with shelter as soon as possible.

"It reminds me of Haiti"

“The area is about 95 per cent destroyed,” Johan says. “It reminds me very much of Haiti, where I worked after the earthquake, and also Aceh. But there was no tsunami wave here; the wind was just so strong that it flattened everything.”

With the hospital destroyed, Johan and the MSF team are working at a nearby health centre with Filipino colleagues. There are no surgical facilities so they can only do minor surgery.

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The town of Guiuan has been virtually destroyed by the Philippines Typhoon. © Caroline Van Nespen/MSF

Massive medical needs

Much of that treatment has involved treating existing wounds which have become infected since Typhoon Haiyan hit the region last Friday. There have been 25 minor surgeries in the past day, and the queues are growing with patients suffering from pneumonia and diarrhoea.

Much of the local population of around 45,000 fled the oncoming typhoon, but they are now returning.

“We can see the lines getting longer,” Johan says. “We are gearing up for their return and, given the logistical challenges, we’re trying to anticipate what the medical needs are going to be in the coming weeks so we can be prepared.”

A priority for the team is setting up a temporary hospital: “It is something where we can really make a difference. We have that experience,” he adds.

Infection and mental health care

The other concern is tetanus, the doctor says: “As a precaution we are using Tetanus Toxoid immunoglobulin. It will give patients immediate protection from tetanus. We don’t yet have the set up for cold-chain for the usual vaccines, nor electricity for refrigeration, but it's coming.

"Even if we did, those vaccines take a number of weeks to become effective. We do not have time to wait.”

Mental healthcare also started today, led by a Filipino mental health nurse.

Our Filipino health workers have strengthened MSF work, according to Johan: “The community has done a fantastic job and they have been working around the clock. They are very strong but they are being overwhelmed.”