The storm had not even cleared Vanuatu and already our response team was mobilized from around the globe and converging on the tiny island nation in the remote South Pacific. Tropical Cyclone Pam (the strongest storm on Earth since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013) had barreled over Vanuatu’s most populous islands; destroying homes, disrupting livelihoods, and severing communications links with outer islands that are still being reestablished today.
When the International Medical Corps Vanuatu Emergency Response Team arrived in the heavily damaged capital city just 72 hours after Tropical Cyclone Pam had struck there was no way of knowing how badly the other islands had been affected or what the immediate needs would be. Drawing on our most recent experiences responding to Typhoon Haiyan and Typhoon Phailin (which hit the coast of India in 2013), we made the decision to deploy mobile medical units. These units are fully self-contained agile platforms for delivering primary health care via whatever means possible – in the back of a 4x4 vehicle, in damaged health centers, in tents carried by donkeys, or in our case: via banana boats and community centers. We consulted with the Government about the best place to dispatch the units and they requested we go to the island of Ambrym.
Ambrym is not your typical tropical paradise. It has experienced a remarkable series of unfortunate events including a large earthquake three weeks prior to the cyclone, a re-invigorated volcano in the middle of the island that is spewing noxious gas, and now a Category 5 typhoon that slammed into the north and southeast sides of the island. Adding insult to injury, the people of Ambrym are greatly feared by locals for suspicion they practice black magic and perform bizarre rituals.
International Medical Corps dispatched two mobile medical units to Ambrym and found the situation to be quite dire. The earthquake had separated pipes that carry water from mountain streams and now entire villages were solely dependent on household catchment tanks for drinking water, many of which had been broken by the storm or contaminated with volcanic ash. Family gardens and food crops had been completely destroyed. Homes, hospitals, schools, and places of worship were heavily damaged. Food aid would be arriving soon, fortunately, but it was clear to us that International Medical Corps was going to be the only first responder staying on the ground in Ambrym. We immediately expanded our operations to include the distribution of emergency water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) supplies including soap, jerry cans, and water purification tablets to every single household. We set the goal to provide access to medical care and a means to transport and store potable water for everyone on Ambrym.
For me, the story of Tropical Cyclone Pam is about the resilient people of Ambrym and its small neighboring island of Paama.
It is about the 7 local nurses and midwives who worked alongside our experienced doctors.
It is about David, the 25-year-old man that walked into our clinic for shortness of breath when one of our doctors noticed a severe heart murmur. Diagnosed with a rare aneurism of the aorta, he was sent to the central hospital in the capital city for specialized care requiring urgent attention. With no doctors on Ambrym, he could have died any day without the diagnosis.
It is about 2-year-old Jessica brought to our clinic by her father with nearly amputated fingers from a knife accident. Our doctors were able to reattach both fingertips and she now has the chance to regain full use.
The Emergency Response Team completed its work and departed Vanuatu one month after its deployment. Reflecting on the scale and scope of the disaster it is clear the effects of Pam will be felt for years, perhaps as long as a decade. But as quickly as the storm came and went, people have started rebuilding their homes, villages have cleared debris and replanted gardens, and the government has embarked upon a comprehensive recovery plan. The people of Ambrym and Paama are resilient by necessity and are committed to better disaster preparedness in the future. I am proud of the assistance International Medical Corps provided in facilitating this transition from relief to self-reliance in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Pam.
The District Hospital of Urgon is located in the Urgon district, in the northeastern region of Paktika Province. Paktika is one of the conflict-affected provinces which are located in the south eastern region of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Paktika shares a border of about 300km with insecure tribal areas of Pakistan (North Waziristan and South Wazirestan). Urgon has a total population of 171,474.
International Medical Corps has been delivering the Ministry of Public Health’s Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) to communities in Paktika province since 2004 at 35 health facilities. The BPHS is the foundation of the Afghan health system and establishes standards of staffing, diagnostic services and equipment needed for the primary care services that will be provided at each facility. International Medical Corps also delivers the more recent Essential Package of Hospital Services, which complements the BPHS by establishing a referral system from the health post at the village level to tertiary care in the major urban centers.
In addition to delivering health services, International Medical Corps’ identifies infrastructure needs, from health facility repairs to restocking medical supplies and providing needed equipment. We were called upon recently when a suicide bombing took place on July 15, 2014 in a crowded marketplace. The incident occurred in the central part of Urgon, about 500 meters away from the District Hospital. 45 people were killed in the blast and 67 were injured. While the hospital staff provided first aid to the victims brought to the hospital, International Medical Corps’ team in Urgon helped with the triage of patients. Some of them were admitted to the hospital, while others needing advanced care were transferred to Kabul emergency hospital by helicopter.
Once the health and safety of the District Hospital of Urgon’s staff was confirmed, the International Medical Corps team assessed the hospital building and equipment to identify any damage caused by the explosion as well as repairs or rehabilitation needed. The team found that the explosion had not caused any direct harm to the structure of the hospital nor to its equipment. However, the hospital building itself, which is an old compound, badly needed renovations in all wards including delivery and maternity, emergency and dental wards, in addition to the waiting hall.
It is with the generous support of GlobalGiving and other donors that International Medical is able to conduct assessments such as these and begin to make urgently needed improvements to local infrastructure. Reinforcing and in some cases rebuilding local healthcare facilities is just one way in which International Medical Corps is making a long-term, lasting impact in local communities. Your assistance and partnership are greatly appreciated.
International Medical Corps was on the ground, delivering care, just 48 hours after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck on April 25.
Since April, International Medical Corps has:
Attached, please also find an overview of the first month of our response.
Moving forward, International Medical Corps will continue to work with the Ministry of Health to restore health care, rebuild health infrastructure, deliver urgently-needed supplies, and help communities continue to recover.
Thank you, again, for all that you do to make our work possible.