BAGANGA, PHILIPPINES – A team of health workers from the Japanese Red Cross Society is leading a basic medical care unit that opened last Thursday in an area of Mindanao Island wrecked by a violent typhoon in December.
Set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross in the town of Baganga in Davao Oriental Province, the health care unit is run by seven members, including three nurses and an engineer from Japan.
The others are a German doctor, a Norwegian nurse and a midwife from Hong Kong. Local health workers have also been hired for the operation, which may last at least three months.
“Our aim for this health care unit is to fill the gap with regard to services lacking due to local capacity limitations. We hope to help in bringing back medical services in the area to the level before the typhoon struck,” ICRC communication officer Hitomi Makabe said, referring to Typhoon Bopha, which roared into the Philippines in early December.
Baganga, an agricultural town facing the Pacific with more than 53,000 residents, was the first municipality to be directly struck by the typhoon on Dec. 4. Packing winds of 175 kph and gusts of up to 210 kph, Bopha flattened almost all of the structures in Baganga, ripped off concrete roofs and toppled utility polls and trees. It killed more than 170 people and left another 30 missing.
“What happened here, for me, wasn’t a typhoon. It was like the (March 2011) tsunami and earthquake in Japan,” said Akiko Ito, a Japanese nurse heading the seven-member team.
“You can see, the roofs of the houses are gone and people have no place to live. While there have been provisions of tents, tarpaulins, food and water, their rural health unit building also collapsed so there’s no space for in-patients,” she said. “So, we’re here to help while they wait for medical facilities to be re-established.”
The health care unit is made up of five tents, which house a consultation and physical examination desk, a dressing area, a space to check patients’ vital signs, an observation room in which patients can stay and receive intravenous fluids for 24 hours, a pharmacy, a section for mothers and a psychosocial support center.
“We’re not going to do surgical procedures, mainly just consultations. We can also cater to pregnant ladies, those not experiencing complicated cases,” Ito said. “We’ll provide health education and hygiene promotion, and we can keep patients here if they need to be observed for 24 hours. If their conditions don’t improve, we’ll transfer them to the rural health care unit in the neighboring town.”