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Philippines: Health care rises from the ashes of destruction

09-12-2013 Feature

In rural Balangiga, on the southern coast of Eastern Samar, Dr Rosarita's health clinic stands as a testament to resilience amid the chaos wrought by Typhoon Haiyan.


In rural Balangiga, on the southern coast of Samar Island, Dr Rosarita's health clinic stands as a testament to the resilience of local people and those who provide primary health care.
© ICRC / B. Goris

Standing among half-broken stretchers and crumpled shelving, an emotional Dr Rosarita points out the remains of a laboratory and rooms that once housed immunisation and dental services and pre-natal care. Like the rest rural Balangiga, her clinic took a battering when Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the central Philippines on 8 November. But it is still standing and open for business.

Nurses and midwives with patients, mothers with children and, on one wall, a ‘Health Chart for Typhoon Yolanda’ welcome you. This two-room semi-operational rural health unit is equipped to serve nearly 13,000 people in Dr Rosarita's home town.

Doctors and nurses at the basic health-care unit set up by the ICRC and the Finnish Red Cross perform minor surgery to remove fragments from a child's feet. 

Doctors and nurses at the basic health-care unit set up by the ICRC and the Finnish Red Cross perform minor surgery to remove fragments from a child's feet.
© ICRC / B. Goris

For the first time since she began her practice in this very unit 23 years ago, Dr Rosarita is having to divide her time between her clinic and, just a few metres away, the basic health-care unit set up by the ICRC and the Finnish Red Cross. The ICRC staff at the unit feel fortunate that Dr Rosarita is lending a hand in daily primary health consultations. "She knows the people and their pulse and can help us better serve those who have nowhere else to go except here for their daily basic health needs," says Dr Ari, the ICRC's general physician in the health-care unit.

However it is not one but 16 additional hands that Dr Rosarita is providing: her nurses and midwives are helping the ICRC health workers with nursing, patient care, registration and even translation.


Delivering primary health care

Residents of Balangiga and surrounding areas gather outside the ICRC basic health-care unit, which sees around 80-100 patients daily. 

Residents of Balangiga and surrounding areas gather outside the ICRC basic health-care unit, which sees around 80-100 patients daily.
© ICRC / B. Goris

The fully equipped Red Cross tented hospital sees an average of 100 patients daily and, during our visit, has already administered three deliveries. According to Dr Rosarita, the health issues currently prevalent in the community are mild respiratory infections, flu and trauma cases with typhoon-related injuries.

Most of the 80-100 patients coming in daily are children aged between one and three, like two-year-old Leonard Jagro who suffers from diarrhoea, a disease that, according to Dr Ari, is on the rise. Jagro's mother would normally have taken him to the Balangiga hospital, had it not been demolished by the typhoon.

While the clinic can handle primary health issues, cases that require hospitalization are sent to the Norwegian Red Cross-supported ICRC emergency hospital in Basey, which is equipped with an operating theatre, an X-ray unit and a laboratory, besides both general and emergency wards. Doctors from the Norwegian and Hong-Kong Red Cross are present round the clock to handle emergency cases and outpatients. This emergency hospital is equipped to serve a catchment area of up to 200,000 people.

The fully equipped Red Cross tented hospital sees an average of 100 patients every day. 

The fully equipped Red Cross tented hospital sees an average of 100 patients every day.
© ICRC / B. Goris

Basey remains one of the townships worst-affected by the typhoon, which destroyed the municipal hospital. The ICRC is working closely with the local health unit to continue providing services while also looking at rehabilitating health-care infrastructure.

As the ringing of neighbouring church bells chime with efforts to restore what has been lost, the new 'normal' is being created in Balangiga, with tented hospitals, mobile clinics and an ever-present Dr Rosarita.