TACLOBAN, Philippines – Japan’s emergency medical team has started full-fledged activities in Tacloban in the central area of the typhoon-hit Philippines.
“The degree of damage is worse than we expected,” said Dr. Joji Tomioka, deputy head of Japan’s disaster relief team. “For a disaster of this scale, the whole of Japan has to provide assistance.”
Treatment for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the city, located on the island of Leyte, has been disrupted by damage to medical institutions by the powerful typhoon. Overseas emergency medical teams have been slow to arrive at the remote location and concerns linger over deteriorating hygiene caused by uncleared garbage and rubble.
“Hardly any medical assistance has been provided so far,” Tomioka said. “In terms of hygiene, there are worries about respiratory and other infections as well as the spread of such diseases as dengue fever in mosquito-infested areas.”
The 25-member medical team carried medicines and equipment for blood tests and X-rays to an open space in the city center to start a temporary medical and surgical clinic and pharmacy for victims. Some 40 people received medical care and medicines there Friday afternoon.
“I’m grateful for the assistance from the Japanese government,” a 39-year-old driver said after receiving drugs for his family. “Medicine is important for children.”
Visitors to the temporary clinic included people with infected wounds and those who lacked medicines for chronic illnesses, according to Tomioka.
“We hope to explore the needs of the Philippines while offering medical care,” he said, adding that his team aims to work with Self-Defense Forces staff at the site to figure out what kind of assistance Japan can offer.
Nobutoshi Nakanishi, captain of the SDF relief team, said, “The Philippines is a very important friend for Japan and we must do all we can.”
A further 50 SDF members were heading for Tacloban from the island of Cebu to begin collecting information for relief activities with the U.S. military.
In Tokyo on Friday, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Japan will expand the SDF relief team to 1,180, the biggest number ever.
The Philippine government told Japan that it will accept the expansion of the SDF team. The Defense Ministry will also add three ships, eight planes and six helicopters from the SDF to those that have already been dispatched.
The three ships will leave the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Kure base in Hiroshima Prefecture on Monday. They are slated to arrive in the disaster-affected areas as early as Nov. 22.
Of the total service members, about 1,170 will transport relief supplies, provide medical services and engage in disease control operations. The remainder will work as liaisons, mainly with the Philippine government and the U.S. military.