On 16 December 2021, Typhoon Rai—locally known as Odette—devastated central and southern Philippines. An estimated 405 people are dead, with 65 missing and 1261 injured. More than 1.3 million homes have been destroyed.
Following assessments carried out between December and early January, MSF has launched an emergency intervention in two of the typhoon’s most badly affected areas – in the island province of Dinagat; and Siargao island, in the province of Surigao del Norte.
Reeling from the disaster
Typhoon Rai was the strongest storm to make landfall in the Philippines in 2021, affecting 11 regions and 38 provinces. In the weeks after the typhoon, some of the worst-hit communities, home to an estimated population of more than 240,000 people and located in the remote Dinagat and Siargao islands, are still reeling. Hospitals and medical facilities have been damaged, and medical personnel are overwhelmed.
MSF has worked in the Philippines since 1984, with a history of responding to emergencies and natural disasters in the region in addition to providing ongoing tuberculosis care, mental health support, COVID-19 treatment, and treatment for non-communicable diseases. Following Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, MSF was one of the first responders, and our teams supported internally displaced people following the siege of Marawi City in 2017. When Typhoon Rai hit in December, MSF teams began performing assessments to determine where the greatest needs were, and what our teams could do to support.
"The typhoon has severely impacted the lives of tens of thousands of people on these islands."
“The typhoon has severely impacted the lives of tens of thousands of people on these islands,” says Chenery Ann Lim, MSF’s emergency medical coordinator.
“Many have lost their homes and livelihoods and are struggling to access healthcare and clean drinking water. It is crucial to make basic services available again immediately to avoid the spread of waterborne diseases.”
MSF’s response is focused on the remote islands of Dinagat, Siargao, and other outlying areas that are some of the worst affected by the disaster.
Supporting health workers in Dinagat
On the island-province of Dinagat around 30,000 houses were destroyed by the typhoon, as well as most of the local infrastructure. There was previously only one medical doctor attending 36,000 people in Basilisa, and the three sea ambulances that were ferrying patients needing specialised care outside of the island are out of order or were affected during the typhoon.
During our assessment, we saw patients with upper-respiratory tract infections, acute watery diarrhoea and hypertension. In one town, some people had been bitten by stray dogs.
Our teams will support local healthcare workers and deploy staff to the Dinagat District Hospital and health units of Basilisa and San Jose, which were badly damaged and need to be rehabilitated. We will refer patients in need of additional care by supporting a functioning system of sea ambulances.
Launching mobile clinics on Siargao and outlying areas
On Siargao island where various health facilities were also damaged, we will provide the community—including the first responders—with psychological first aid and mental health care, as well as support with patient referrals.
We will be launching mobile clinics in areas that have so far received little or no aid, including some outlying islands of Surigao City. Mental health support will be a key component of our consultations.The supply of clean water is currently a huge concern despite the abundant availability of water in the area. The storage capacity and network of water has been badly affected in the aftermath of the typhoon, and the authorities have already attributed some deaths to acute gastroenteritis and leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that usually occurs after flooding or wading through contaminated water.
In response, we will be distributing hygiene kits and providing water and sanitation activities to increase access to clean drinking water in all areas of our emergency response.
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