By Sea or Donkey, Delivering Medicine to the Field

by International Medical Corps
International Medical Corps Team in Leyte
International Medical Corps Team in Leyte

One of the most powerful typhoons on record, Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last November and left widespread devastation affecting an estimated 16 million men, women and children, including displacing some 4.4 million people. International Medical Corps was on the ground within 24 hours of Typhoon Haiyan making landfall, providing emergency medical services to some of the most remote communities, many of which had yet to receive relief or health care. Rapid needs assessments revealed that Typhoon Haiyan severely damaged infrastructure, including homes, buildings and power lines; disrupted water supplies; and destroyed livelihoods, especially fishing and agriculture.  There was substantial structural damage in rural health centers and village health offices and the storm destroyed stockpiles, creating a severe shortage of supplies and medicines critical to delivering health care.

Because an immediate challenge when responding to a disaster is to provide mobile medical teams with the medical resources and pharmaceuticals to treat survivors, International Medical Corps works with multiple partners to quickly secure donations of quality medicine and supplies. As International Medical Corps deployed an Emergency Response Team, one of our international partners reached out to offer immediate help in the form of Doctor Travel Packs. With their support, we flew one pallet of nine Doctors Travel Packs into our Logistics hub in Cebu immediately, and then followed with a second shipment of nine more Packs a few weeks later.

Each Doctor Travel Pack is made up of two boxes that are loaded with enough primary care medicine, such as antibiotics, antifungals, anti-inflammatories, to treat approximately 1,000 people. We also utilized Interagency Emergency Health Kits, which are slightly larger and are made up of a larger variety of medicines, including medical equipment, and are intended to treat up to 10,000 people for a period of three months. With donor support, International Medical Corps was able to deploy a total of 9 Doctor Travel Packs which reached 9,000 people and 5 Emergency Health Kits with provided health facilities with medicines to treat up to 50,000 people both during and after the disaster.

One of the underserved areas International Medical Corps focused on was the Philippine island province of Leyte. Three months after Typhoon Yolanda hit the Visayas Region, Nurse Evangeline Matoza of the MacArthur, Leyte Rural Health Unit (RHU) describes the challenges that her facility faced in caring for the 19,000 citizens of her city. “Right after the Typhoon hit,” Nurse Matoza says, “we went to the places where our patients had been evacuated… to the high school and the municipal hall. There were so many people that needed care, mostly for lacerations and other open wounds.” 

Yet while the number of patients increased, Nurse Matoza and her colleagues were faced with dwindling supplies: “The main problem was the drug supply -- we consumed our supply of antibiotics and the first aid supplies within three days.” Relief came through government and NGO systems, but the health workers at MacArthur RHU still struggled to keep up with the high demand for health care supplies. “A few days after the typhoon, we received our first shipment of much-needed drugs and water purifiers,” she says, “but it was still not enough.”

“That’s why we were so grateful when the mobile medical units started,” Nurse Matoza continues. “International Medical Corps and other NGOs really helped ease the burden on us. When your teams came, they would go directly to the barangays (communities), and reach the injured people that we could not reach.” As her community moves from emergency response to building a more sustainable recovery, Nurse Matoza is grateful for the ongoing support of organizations like International Medical Corps: “You gave us supplies that we are still using to care for our patients. We need to do this to heal our community.”

With the Philippines, International Medical Corps was able to dispatch medical treatments for thousands of patients within a week, only because of the generosity of donors that enabled us to ship these resources quickly and directly to the hardest-hit areas. From November 15 – December 19, International Medical Corps’ teams also delivered and distributed more than $1,900,000 worth of medicine and medical supplies to support these health care services through the mobile and permanent health care facilities.

Pre-positioning of funding dedicated to medical supply shipments enables us to move as quickly as possible, and although most of the supplies we use to meet the needs of disaster-stricken people are donated, it is often necessary to raise money to cover the cost of shipping and deploying the materials to disaster zones. Donations made for disaster relief through fundraising vehicles such as Global Giving enable us to respond rapidly to the next emergency, ensuring that as our mobile medical teams trek across disaster zones, they’ve got the medicines and supplies they need to truly make a difference when it matters most. 

Carrying Medical Supplies by Foot
Carrying Medical Supplies by Foot
Medical Examination in a Mobile Medical Unit
Medical Examination in a Mobile Medical Unit
Preparing to Deliver Relief to Guiuan
Preparing to Deliver Relief to Guiuan

Typhoon Haiyan, equivalent to a category 5 hurricane, has affected an estimated 9.9 million people in the Philippines. The storm, which made landfall on November 8, caused widespread devastation, displacing 3.4 million people and destroying over 1 million houses, according to the United Nations. This rare and very powerful storm has severely disrupted the delivery of critical health services, and access to safe water continues to be a serious problem for the affected regions.

Since access to affected areas has improved with the clearing of roads and the re-opening of most airports, relief efforts from humanitarian organizations and the Government of the Philippines have scaled up substantially. While humanitarian assistance is getting through to the hard hit areas urban areas with high populations, efforts must continue to extend to the rural and remote villages, many of which have not received any assistance to-date.

Damaged Health Care Infrastructure: Super Typhoon Haiyan caused widespread destruction and damage to permanent health facilities which has slowed the recovery efforts and has caused shortages of essential medicines and medical supplies. The Government of the Philippines has announced plans for rebuilding or rehabilitating destroyed or damaged health facilities and appealed to the private sector and NGOs to offer resources and expertise to address gaps in infrastructure, equipment, and staffing. However, in the immediate term, services are being provided through a mixture of mobile medical clinics and temporary health facilities. As such, there is a tremendous need for medicines and medical supplies to be delivered to the affected areas in order to provide adequate medical care to the population. The need for these daily supplies will only continue to grow as facilities are brought back online or made functional, because supplies lost in the storm will need to be replaced in order to regain the ability to operate as they did before the storm.

International Medical Corps response: International Medical Corps is on the ground in the Philippines providing medical services through ten mobile medical units in some of the hardest-hit areas following Typhoon Haiyan. International Medical Corps is also conducting water, sanitation and hygiene; medical; and mental health assessments in affected communities, and has begun nutrition screening and treatment referral for children.

By working through mobile medical units, International Medical Corps has been able to provide critical health services on remote islands where families struggle to access medical care and basic resources.

With the support of its partners, International Medical Corps has sent hundreds of hygiene kits, scrubs, antibiotics, primary health medicines and 5 Interagency Emergency Health Kits that can each support 10,000 people for approximately three months. These supplies are being distributed through its mobile medical units to vulnerable communities in isolated and heavily impacted areas.  The top conditions being treated are open wounds and bruises (from reconstruction efforts), acute respiratory infection, hypertension, fever and skin diseases. Left untreated, these conditions can quickly become life-threatening among vulnerable populations such as infants and the elderly.

The demand for critical medicines paired with the difficult logistical situation has made it difficult and costly to supply medical items to where they are desperately needed, which is making the situation more urgent. International Medical Corps’ efforts to obtain and distribute medicines and supplies will help to maintain health of the most vulnerable while the health care infrastructure is restored in the hardest hit areas of the Philippines. As little as $15,000 can send an emergency health kit that will provide medicine and supplies for a community of 10,000 people for three months. Kits like these are vital for our Emergency Response Unit - they often depend on shipments like these to provide care for communities affected by disaster.

Unloading Relief Items in Guiuan
Unloading Relief Items in Guiuan
Delivering Relief in Hernani by Helicopter
Delivering Relief in Hernani by Helicopter
Unpacking Medical Supplies
Unpacking Medical Supplies

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Organization Information

International Medical Corps

Location: Los Angeles, CA - USA
Website: https:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Erica Tavares
Director, Resource Development
Santa Monica, CA United States

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