I’ve joined one of our mobile medical teams today. It’s made up of a doctor and four nurses.
We’re heading up into the western peninsula of the island of Leyte where our teams had previously identified needs.
We pass building after building destroyed by the typhoon and palm trees with lopsided branches, like bad asymmetric haircuts from the 80s!
The sight of children holding ‘Help me’ signs at the side of the road is now familiar. It’s almost always children but occasionally we see a pregnant woman or an elderly man.
Again, food and shelter are their main needs. We check in on the local government building where teams of volunteers are putting together sacks of rice, potatoes, garlic and fast-growing seeds (to help the communities replenish their gardens/farms) for a large-scale food distribution. The corridors are lined with ceiling-high piles of sacks, protected from the afternoon rains.
We set up the clinic in one of the local school buildings and within minutes we have a crowd. Mostly curious children excited by the visitors, but we soon have a queue of patients, getting larger and larger, seemingly coming out of the woodwork. We see mostly wounds sustained during or soon after the typhoon that have now become infected. We have iodine and bandages and the all-important tetanus vaccine for puncture wounds. I see a little girl showing-off her bandages to her envious friends.
But we’re also starting to see diarrhoeal and skin infections because people still don’t have access to regular clean water. We need to keep an eye on the numbers of diarrhoeal cases so that the few sporadic cases don’t turn into an outbreak. Our concerns are cholera, typhoid and shigella, diarrhoeal diseases associated with poor water and sanitation. In addition we’re being vigilant about dengue and malaria, diseases spread by mosquitoes whose population numbers can increase after flooding, causing large outbreaks.
The team are also starting to see signs of mental distress such as insomnia, anxiety and sadness. Such feelings often follow disasters. Our mental health officers are now joining each mobile team, trained in psychological first aid to help these patients cope with these feelings.