Philippines + 1 more

Guam medical team prepare for third trip to help Haiyan survivors

News and Press Release
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Six months after super-typhoon Haiyan devastated large parts of Palau and the Philippines, a group that is continuing to provide assistance is the Guam Medical Association.

The group's president Dr Thomas Shieh has already led two missions to the Philippines and another is being planned.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Dr Thomas Shieh, Guam Medical Association

SHIEH: It's got to be our third and final mission there. Our first mission we scheduled about two weeks immediately after the Super Typhoon, and it was two weeks immediately after we went down to Cebu and we went to northern Cebu, about four hours drive. And then we went to Sogod and that was very, very interesting to see the people just suffering there. On our second mission we went to the heart of the storm, we went into Tacloban and that was two months after the storm and recovery efforts are still continuing. And we still some bodies that were on the ground and people's lives are still being affected very severely. So we helped thousands of patients in the first two missions. On the third mission we're going to head back through Tacloban, and that's going to be the immediate six months after the devastating storm. We have a delegation of about 28 from Guam that's going to being heading down and meeting up with St Luke's medical centre in Manila, Global CityThis is going to be on the 24th of May.

EWART: So give us an impression of how the situation changed based on your experience of the first and then the second mission? Was there a noticeable improvement or were things just as bad the second time you went?

SHIEH: These were two different areas that we went and I would say the second mission in Tacloban where the heart of the storm was the hardest hit area, things were just as bad, 90 per cent, 95 per cent without power, downed telephone lines and downed power lines are still scattered all over the place. There was debris all over and people were still living on the streets. There was a curfew, at 8pm no one was supposed to be on the streets and it was completely dark. And there was also very little food and water around and the people were just surviving on what they've got. When was got there it was very devastating. We bought some money to buy food but as you know with money if there's no food there's nothing to buy. So it's a very difficult time for the people of the Philippines, especially in Tacloban. And what we see is women and children and many of them if you talk to them that the lives that's lost, every single one of them you talk to they've lost somebody. You talk to mothers who have two or more children what's interesting is that they'll tell you that they have two kids in their arms, and when the floods came and it was so bad that they had to grab onto something, so the water just pulled one of their children out of their arms and they lost many, many children to the waves of the ocean that came in. And what happened is that they got trapped in a couple of cities because the rain was there, coming down from the mountains on one side, and the swell of the ocean coming in from the ocean side, from the beach, and they just got trapped in a huge debris of cold water. And the water went all the way up to about second stories high, so you couldn't really swim for the people there because there was so much debris below you that they just drowned.

EWART: Working in those sorts of conditions for you and your team, I imagine that when you are working it's very intense, your focus is entirely on the people that you're obviously attempting to assist and treat medically, but when and if you get time to reflect, doesn't it really weigh in on your team, just the sheer scale of what has happened there, and the awful impact that it's having on so many people?

SHIEH: Yes it does and in that position nurses and the staff we always talk to each other about post traumatic stress after you go into conditions like that, you witness the suffering of the people, we always come back to Guam and we're very lucky to have free running water, we have toilet tissues, and we have toilets to use, and we have food in our refrigerator, we just go to a supermarket and buy food. So we are very lucky and it brings us back down to reality, and we don't forget our experience when we go to this mission. And that's why we're going back for the third time. And we hope to do another mission maybe at the end of the year, but this will be our third and final mission for Super Typhoon Yolanda, and we hope to learn a lot from our final mission. We'll bring it back and do an educational conference on this and maybe even at this conference about medical relief missions. And we want to thank all the people, the donors from Guam and even off island and our volunteers for their time, because it does take up a lot of time and when we leave our families and our work behind here.

EWART: And the group that you'll be taking out for this third and final mission, will it be made up of the same volunteers who went before, or will there be people going out there for the first time?

SHIEH: We will have the same group of people that's gone out with the same doctors, nurses, but we'll also going to have additional staff. We're taking along two additional paediatricians, we're going to have three paediatricians because there's a lot of children there. We're also going to be taking along an additional dentist with us, so we're going to have two dentists along with us this time around, we're also have a surgeon as well. And we have multiple nurses that can function in different arenas in emergency rooms and women's health and also internal medicine and family practice as well. And we also have a physician, staff member joining us from Manila, St Luke's Medical Centre. Without St Luke's Medical Centre the logistics for getting into Tacloban is almost impossible, simply because you have to respect the government going in there, you need to get permission. You also need to arrange flight arrangements and the motel that we're going to be staying in down there. And it's really not a vacation but we enjoy the mission and we're happy to do this humanitarian service for the people of the Philippines, and we want to thank them also for welcoming us in, and remember that we go in there with armed guards as well simply because we want some water and we want to make sure that our supplies are protected and are distributed to those people who really are in need.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation