November 13, 2013

In the ongoing effort to assist people in the central Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams have travelled by car, boat, plane and helicopter to some of the areas that were in the centre of the storm’s path.These areas include northern Cebu Island, eastern Samar Island, Panay Island, and western Leyte province. The teams have gone to evaluate the damage in the area and the medical needs of the populations.The storm has clearly taken a massive toll. Much of the region’s infrastructure was rendered inoperable. This means that large numbers of people have yet to receive assistance, particularly in outlying islands that neither the national government nor international agencies have been able to reach.“Access is extremely difficult,” said Dr. Natasha Reyes, MSF emergency coordinator in the Philippines. “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.”

Assessing the needs

One MSF team went by plane to Guiuan, a town of 45,000 people in the east of Samar Island, one of the first areas the typhoon hit. The damage is extensive and the needs immense.“The situation here is bleak,” said Alexis Moens, MSF’s assessment team leader. “The village has been flattened – houses, medical facilities, rice fields, fishing boats all destroyed. People are living out in the open.“The needs are immense and there are a lot of surrounding villages that are not yet covered by any aid organizations.”A full team will return by helicopter tomorrow and deliver medical assistance to as many people as possible. The priority will be to treat the wounded and ensure that people who need additional care are referred to specialized services. The team will also provide clean water, shelter and relief items.“Today I met a man who lost his whole family,” said Moens. “He tried to stab himself with a knife. There are villages that have lost so many people, and psychosocial assistance is going to be essential to help people rebuild their lives.”Another MSF team assessed Panay Island by helicopter and estimates that around 50 per cent of Roxas City, a town in Capiz province, has been destroyed. Further assessments will be carried out in the villages surrounding Roxas. A third team is currently in Ormoc, from which it will survey western Leyte.A fourth MSF team drove to northern Cebu Island, where most displaced people appear to have found shelter with other families and communities. The local hospital was overwhelmed with patients immediately after the typhoon, but other nearby health centres and hospitals provided support, and it is now coping relatively well. The MSF team later boarded a ferry to Bantayan Island, where they will continue their assessment.

More staff and cargo on the way

MSF is rapidly scaling up its response and will have more than 100 staff in the area in the coming days, including doctors, nurses, surgeons, logisticians, psychologists, and water and sanitation experts.Ten planeloads of aid materials—including medical supplies, shelter materials, hygiene kits, and water and sanitation equipment—are being dispatched to the Philippines from MSF warehouses around the world. Three of the planes arrived in Cebu today.

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