Rebuilding healthcare, healing survivors in typhoon-hit central Philippines

February 5, 2014

Haiyan, the strongest storm on record, destroyed many healthcare centres. Our correspondent visited the typhoon-affected areas almost three months later to see how aid agencies like ICRC have been filling the gap.


For many children in the Philippines who don’t have access to a playground, the roadside is a good alternative. Inevitably, this leads to accidents.

This boy was hit by a motorcycle one Sunday morning while playing in his village. Luckily he was found by an ICRC staffer on his way to work and brought to Basey field hospital in Samar Province, a 30-minute drive, crying loudly and bleeding profusely. The ICRC set up the field hospital in the grounds of a damaged sports hall after Haiyan ravaged the local hospital.

An X-ray showed the boy had suffered a bad leg fracture, and he was transferred to Tacloban Hospital, an hour’s drive from Basey and the nearest hospital that could operate on him. I never found out his name, but hope he was operated on quickly and made a full recovery.

Thirteen-year-old Mario Raños was also hit by a motorcycle. Eight months ago, he was walking along the road in Basey on a work errand when a motorcycle hit him from behind, throwing him into the air and injuring his leg. When Mario regained consciousness, he trudged back to the small home he shares with his mother, older brother and stepfather and fell onto the bed.

He didn’t leave his bed except for two visits to the Tacloban Hospital. Local political leaders helped as his family was poor, but his condition didn’t improve and he fell ill after Typhoon Haiyan struck. His mother brought him to the field hospital in Basey when she heard he could get free treatment there. He can now walk with a stick, and continuing the therapy and looking forward to going back to school.

“While I was lying in bed I thought I would never walk again but now I believe I’ll be able to,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation, beaming as he posed with his new school bag. “I want to become a policeman when I grow up. I want to catch the bad guys,” he added.


When Haiyan tore through the central Philippines on Nov. 8, it cut a swathe of destruction, washing away communities, killing thousands and displacing more than 4 million people. Healthcare facilities took a major hit, one early U.N. assessment showing 47 were affected out of 115 in the region.

Hospitals and rural health units were badly damaged and many lost their equipment, drugs and medical records.

Here, some of the patient records that were soaked and ruined by Haiyan are piled up on a bench outside the damaged Basey District Hospital.

The government is providing 17.5 million pesos ($388,000) to repair this operating room at the Basey District Hospital. The room lost all its equipment in the storm except a faulty operating lamp and a very old table, but was closed even before Haiyan because the equipment didn’t work.

But for Haiyan, the room might have remained closed, so the typhoon has, in one case at least, had a silver lining.

The head doctor, Dr. R J Egos, said they’re looking forward to being able to carry out operations again.

Despite the damage to the health centres and their personal losses, many doctors and medical staff started treating people as soon as they could after the typhoon.

In a health centre in Balangiga municipality in Eastern Samar province, Dr. Rosarita Enciso and her team delivered a baby on the evening of Nov. 8, even though their homes had been almost destroyed by the storm that morning.

They are now operating in a tent while the health centre is rebuilt.

The staff of this health centre in Giporlos, Eastern Samar, moved out after it was damaged by Haiyan, but moved back in in January when storms caused by Tropical Depression Agaton flooded the tents they were working in.

Only one of the 10 rooms is usable, the entrance doubles up as the waiting room, and construction workers are repairing the building. On the January morning that I visited, the constant hammering was broken only by the wailing of infants waiting to be vaccinated.

The doctor and her three staff looked calm despite the din. The work has a further 40 days to go.

“We’ve gotten used to it,” said Dr. Marilyn Capanang with a laugh.

Mary Ann Pajarlilla, 21, and her two-month-old daughter Mary Neil Sabanal were at the health unit that morning for the baby’s first vaccination.

Mary Ann gave birth to her daughter a week after Haiyan. She, her husband and the baby are now staying with her grandfather in a tarpaulin-roofed home, hoping to build a new house nearby soon.

The baby looked healthy apart from small white blotches on her legs and very dry skin. The nurses think unclean water at home is causing the skin condition.

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