Tuesday 12 November 2013 – In the wake of the devastating typhoon which hit the Philippines on Friday, emergency teams from the international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are trying to reach the worst affected areas. Efforts to reach the city of Tacloban in Leyte Province are being complicated by roads blocked with debris, as well as strong winds and torrential rain, which has resulted in many flights to the damaged airport being cancelled.
"The situation is catastrophic – it's total chaos," says Dr Natasha Reyes, MSF emergency coordinator in the Philippines. “Access is extremely difficult and is preventing people from receiving help. Our priority is to get to those people in more isolated areas; they are the hardest to reach and often the last to receive much-needed assistance.”
MSF will have more than 100 staff on the ground in the coming days – including doctors, nurses, surgeons, logisticians, psychologists and water and sanitation experts. Eight planeloads of aid – including medical supplies, shelter materials, hygiene kits and water and sanitation equipment – are also on their way to the Philippines from MSF warehouses.
With health facilities damaged or destroyed and medical equipment washed away in the storm surge, many of the injured in Tacloban have gathered at the city’s airport. An MSF team will help provide medical care at the airport and support a hospital that is still functioning. Teams also plan to travel by boat and helicopter to the surrounding areas – particularly the islands west of Cebu and Guiuan town, to the east – to provide urgent medical aid. With communication networks down, there is still little information available about the extent of the damage in many remote and rural areas.
“There are definitely wounded people who have not yet received medical attention,” said Dr Reyes. “With so many houses and buildings having collapsed because of the strong winds, we’re expecting to see some significant injuries. Even minor wounds can potentially cause major problems if they become infected, which is quickly becoming a serious concern as the days pass without people having access to medical care.”
MSF’s priority is to address the urgent and immediate medical needs, including vaccinating people against tetanus. “After that, it’s everything – shelter, water, food,” says Reyes. “People have lost everything.”