On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan passed through the Visayas Region of the Philippines with wind speeds equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane. The strongest storm of 2013, Typhoon Haiyan devastated parts of the provinces of Leyte, Eastern Samar, Capiz, and Cebu, affecting 14 million people and killing over 6,200. International Medical Corps was on the ground in the Philippines within 24 hours of Typhoon Haiyan, and began supporting a comprehensive emergency response. Rapidly implementing a network of mobile medical units, International Medical Corps was able to reach remote communities cut off from health care and basic services, providing over 14,625 health consultations in more than 80 villages.
As local capacity recovered and the need for direct humanitarian service delivery decreased, International Medical Corps shifted towards early recovery efforts in 17 municipalities in late December 2013, and established four programs in the areas of: health; nutrition; mental health; and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in schools. Through all of these programs, the goal is to support underserved and rural communities to “build back better. International Medical Corps was able to achieve the following in typhoon-affected areas from January until March 31, 2014:
The typhoon caused large-scale damage to local water and sanitation infrastructure, threatening the health status of vulnerable communities, and putting children, in particular, at risk for communicable diseases. To respond to this need, International Medical Corps launched an effort to repair or replace damaged toilets and hand-washing systems in over 100 local schools and reach more than 57,000 school children with improved WASH services. To date, International Medical Corps has rehabilitated the sanitation and water supply systems at 10 targeted typhoon-affected schools in 7 target municipalities in Leyte Province, including of Burauen, Dagami, Julita, La Paz, MacArthur, Mayorga and Tabon Tabon.
At San Roque Elementary School in Tanauan Municipality, only one classroom was left standing after the typhoon, and the devastation to San Roque Elementary resembles many schools in the area. “Our school was devastated; many of the roofs and walls of our buildings were destroyed. We have 11 classrooms of students and no toilet” says Patricia Andrin, the Principal of San Jose Elementary School. International Medical Corps has since rebuilt the roofs on the bathrooms and installed a new hand-washing station at San Roque Elementary School.
In addition to physically rehabilitating sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, International Medical Corps is also focused on training and educating local communities about proper hygiene practices to ensure optimal health. Through its comprehensive water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) program, International Medical Corps is providing information and education on WASH and related health issues.
International Medical Corps recently sent nurses to San Roque Elementary to teach the 150 students about the importance of using their new hand-washing station. This was the first training session on hygiene promotion that will eventually reach over 130 schools in Western, Central and Eastern Leyte.
“As a nurse, I can see the benefits of the WASH program because it helps prevent the spread of water-borne pathogens,” said Priscilla, a member of the International Medical Corps’ hygiene promotion team. “A big concern of our program is to involve every child, because they are prone to illness. I know it is not easy to change these daily routines, but I am excited to make a difference.”
In November 2013, International Medical Corps began to move from its emergency response strategy of delivering health care through mobile medical units, to a more long-term strategy of building the resilience of local communities through training and improving access to clean water sources.
Working with communities in the same areas ravaged by the cyclone, International Medical Corps has since been focused on restoring capacity and building self-reliance in these communities by developing solutions to mitigate destruction from future storms, such as investing in strategies to help communities access clean water and thwart the spread of disease -- which ultimately help local community members to become their own, best First Responders.
International Medical Corps has helped lay the foundation for building resilience in India through the following strategies:
International Medical Corps will continue to expand its capacity building work in Cyclone Phailin affected areas in India by further developing the resilience of local communities through activities focused on water and sanitation awareness, such as campaigns delivered in schools, during community gatherings, and at other events. International Medical Corps is using its local network of experienced health and hygiene promoters, who speak the local language, to communicate key messages to villagers and students, verbally and visually, on a range of health topics, including: women’s personal hygiene, safety processes for drinking/storing/ handling water, use of latrines, and the hazards associated with unhygienic behavior such as not washing hands. Additional schools located in the low-lying villages affected by the cyclone will be selected for awareness campaigns and will also receive first aid and hygiene kits.
True to its mission, International Medical Corps has moved on from disaster response to rebuilding self-reliance, supporting communities’ efforts to recover and remain resilient after future disasters, and providing them with the tools they need to be their own best First Responders.
Following its response to the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010, International Medical Corps’ teams responded to the equally devastating outbreak of cholera in late October 2010. International Medical Corps was one of the very first organizations to respond and had medical staff on the ground in one of the worst areas – Artibonite – days before the outbreak was confirmed to be cholera. International Medical Corps aggressively rolled out a network of cholera treatment centers (CTCs) and mobile medical units in Haiti’s most remote and affected areas to care for more than 39,700 cholera patients. International Medical Corps also trained and mentored more than 1,200 doctors, nurses, and community health workers so that our network of CTCs were established and staffed largely by local health professionals and could eventually be handed over to the MoH and be a part of the country’s long-term infrastructure to prevent and treat cholera.
Since that time, International Medical Corps’ work has focused on cholera preparedness and response to outbreaks, particularly in rural areas where access to health services and knowledge of cholera and how to prevent it is very low. During 2013, International Medical Corps’ work focused on cholera education and prevention activities in the Grand North, considered one of the country’s most under-served areas in terms of infrastructure and economy. The Grand North (including the North, Northeast and Northwest Departments) has demonstrated its vulnerability to cholera outbreaks, and since the initial outbreak in 2010, there have been over 135,374 suspected cholera cases within the three departments, with this region also seeing a higher case fatality rate than that of Haiti nationally, at 1.6%.
In response, International Medical Corps assessed the needs of several remote communities in the North and North-East Districts and focused its support on re-supply of the area’s health centers with general use and cholera medicines while also delivering education campaigns to help local residents prevent the spread of cholera. International Medical Corps, in partnership with the Council of Haitian Non-State Players (CONHANE) and the MSPP, worked with four community based organizations in the selected communities to conduct cholera prevention awareness activities through house-to-house visits and hygiene awareness sessions in churches and schools. By the end of 2013, International Medical Corps’ cholera prevention efforts in the north of Haiti indirectly benefitted more than 125,000 people.
Now, in 2014, International Medical Corps has continued its work responding to cholera outbreaks in Haiti in the Grand North through mobile medical units. International Medical Corps currently operates six mobile medical units staffed by trained Haitian health personnel who investigate suspected cases of cholera, provide treatment or referral, and sensitize and educate at-risk communities. Once a suspected case is identified through the surveillance system, International Medical Corps’ mobile medical unit team quickly deploys to the area to investigate the suspected case and provide treatment or support referral to the nearest health facility. The team educates the household and provide supplies to disinfect the home. The teams teach proper hand washing techniques; the importance of water treatment in order to avoid contracting cholera; and the proper use of latrines and waste management techniques.
After the household work is complete, the mobile medical team then focuses its prevention efforts with the surrounding community. The team trains and mobilizes community volunteers in the surrounding community to assist in awareness campaigns to remind the population that cholera is still present in their community and that they need to apply good hygiene practice to avoid the spread of cholera. As needed, the mobile medical teams also directly teach local residents how to identify all types of diarrheal related water diseases and cholera in particular, and how to properly prepare and use oral rehydration salts – critical tools in the fight against cholera.
Thanks to the generosity of Global Giving and other generous donors, International Medical Corps’ six mobile medical team (two in each targeted Department - the North, Northeast and Northwest) have achieved the following results from 2014 to-date: 19,576 individuals have been reached to-date with cholera prevention and health promotion messages, 19,127 Oral Rehydration Salt (ORS) sachets and 88,450 aqua tabs were distributed, and 771 cases of acute diarrhea have been treated by International Medical Corps’ teams. While this work has helped to save lives and has laid an important foundation of knowledge in vulnerable communities in the Grand North, each hurricane season now brings with it the potential for a large scale outbreak, which combined with difficult terrain and low access to health care, could result in a rapid increase in cases and deaths. Looking forward, International Medical Corps plans to continue these mobile medical units in the Grand North through the fall and then transition to broader Disaster Risk Reduction activities to help to further build resilience at the individual, household, and community level to dangerous threats such as cholera as well as other hazards in the region.