At the time of publication of this issue of the Health Emergency Highlights, Typhoon Haiyan has just struck the Philippines. Super Typhoon Haiyan made its first landfall in Eastern Samar province of the Philippines on 8 November, moving on to the province of Leyte, with maximum winds of 235 km per hour where it had devastating effects, and ultimately causing destruction in 36 provinces and affecting more than 11 million people.
Initial estimates counted several thousands dead, many more injured and around three million displaced. Between 11 and 13 million persons are estimated to be affected. The health infrastructure is severely damaged or destroyed in many areas, disrupting the delivery of essential health services. The regional hospital in Tacloban was hit by a severe storm surge, patients in lower floors have drowned and much of its medical equipment was damaged. Many health workers have themselves been affected by the typhoon.
In light of the scale and complexity of this emergency, WHO categorized this event as grade 3 – the highest internal emergency category - and mobilized organization-wide support for the country. Financial, technical and human resources were deployed in support of the humanitarian response and health cluster leadership in the Philippines. This was a direct application of the Emergency Response Framework (ERF), which, following the 2012 World Health Assembly resolution 65.20 on WHO’s role for health in humanitarian emergencies, defines WHO’s critical functions, response procedures and performance standards that the Organization commits to deliver in emergencies.
The most immediate health risks identified were complications of untreated injuries (e.g. death, infection, tetanus, disability), the spread of infectious diseases (such as diarrhoea due to breakdown of water and sanitation infrastructure, and respiratory infections and measles due to overcrowding), poor access to obstetric care for the thousands of women expected to deliver over the coming weeks, disruption of health services, and lack of medicines and supplies.
Following the ERF procedures, an experienced and pre-qualified senior health officer was deployed to assist WHO’s Representative to manage the field operations. WHO fielded 21 health and emergency experts to five locations, including Tacloban, Roxas, and Cebu. The hubs are being staffed with emergency teams composed of a Health Cluster Coordinator, an Information Management Officer, a Public Health Officer and a Logistics/ Administrative Officer.
An initial shipment of five emergency kits with medicines and supplies to cover basic health needs of 150 000 people during one month and supplies to perform 400 surgical interventions were deployed. Four diarrhoeal diseases kits with medicines and supplies to treat 3000 cases of acute diarrhoea were also shipped. The Global Health Cluster and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) were activated.
WHO provided support to the Philippines Department of Health (DOH) in developing a health response strategy and action plan, leading the Health Cluster, coordinating the deployment of field hospitals, foreign medical teams (FMTs) and forensic teams (to manage dead bodies), and restoring the national health system for basic emergency services. Also as part of the ERF, WHO is assisting the DOH to strengthen the early warning alert and response network to rapidly detect and prepare for disease outbreaks and other public health threats.
WHO appealed for US$ 15 million. Five days after the launch of the appeal WHO had received pledges for US$8.7 million, over half of the funds requested. Further details about the typhoon Haiyan health response are available on the WHO web site www.who.int/disasters