Typhoon Haiyan: health workers leading the way on the long road to recovery

On 8 November, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Haiyan, widespread damage and devastation throughout 44 provinces in the country. According to latest government figures, the death toll from the category-5 typhoon has risen above 5,000 with 1,600 people still missing. Furthermore, more than 18,000 people have been injured and over four million people have been left homeless.

According to a recent report by the Philippines Department of Health (DoH), as many as 1,100 health clinics were partially damaged or destroyed in the typhoon-hit areas. Most of these are primary healthcare facilities, catering to the population’s most basic healthcare requirements. The total cost of damage to health facilities is at least US$5 million.

The health care needs of the population are huge. People are at a high risk of water-borne diseases, like cholera and typhoid, due to contaminated water supplies. Damage to health services has disrupted routine immunization, and overcrowding in residential camps has greatly increased the risk of infections, such as measles and pneumonia. Cuts and wounds from nails, from stepping on the wreckage of buildings, have increased the risk of tetanus. WHO estimates that more than 200,000 pregnant women and 130,000 breastfeeding women in all disaster-hit areas are in need of maternal, newborn and child health services.

Local health workers and international medical teams are working together to cater to the health care needs of the population. Teams of health professionals from the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the national DoH are administering tetanus vaccines and measles to children. Every day, dedicated health workers travel to affected areas to provide necessary assistance and keep up to date on the health situation.

As the media’s attention shifts away from the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan, it is critical for the international community to ensure that health workers are not left alone as they lead the way on the long road to recovery. The Alliance pledges its support to health workers across the world and once again, calls upon governments and partners to remember the pivotal role played by health workers in the delivery of health care, especially during and after emergencies.