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Tufts Public Health » Uncategorized » At the End of the Storm: Public Health Concerns in the Aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan

At the End of the Storm: Public Health Concerns in the Aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan

The beauty of the Philippines before the typhoon

Before the Typhoon

 

It has been over a month since Typhoon Haiyan (known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines) tore through the Philippines, destroying cities and devastating communities. The most recent counts put the death toll at 5,924, with another 1,779 people missing and over 4 million people displaced. Along with damage and heart break, Typhoon Haiyan has inflicted numerous public health concerns.

Poor Sanitation and Increased Water Contamination
Sanitation and water contamination are often concerns after natural disasters, because they can lead to waterborne diseases. Those stationed in Tacloban, the capital of the Philippines, have reported that even the city’s most reliable pumps have become contaminated. As a result, there have been cases of dysentery, a potentially fatal intestinal disease..

Compromised Maternal Health
Maternal health care in the Philippines has seen improvements over the past few years, but experts feel that Typhoon Haiyan has had a significant impact on this progress. The Typhoon has affected approximately 292,000 pregnant women who need prenatal care, urgent maternal care, and newborn health services. With no space available at hospitals, and few means of transportation, these pregnant women are not receiving the prenatal care they require. Many of these women have been displaced and are living in over-crowded emergency centers. They eat small amounts of food (mostly rice and canned goods), putting unborn babies at risk for complications due to maternal malnourishment. Finally, health experts are concerned about the health of newborns.

Lack of access to personnel trained in proper birthing, emergency neonatal care services, clean water, and a plethora of other important resources can have a profound impact on newborns.

Communicable Diseases and Injuries,
Many storm survivors are highly susceptible to developing life-threatening diseases, such as dysentery and cholera. According to Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths, MD, MPH&TM, Professor of Public Health & Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, these diseases are not new outbreaks: “When a natural disaster occurs, there is not necessarily an outbreak of new diseases. High displacement rates and contamination can lead to an increased risk of contracting an already existing disease.”

Many survivors sustained physical injuries, such as severe lacerations. However, these injuries and diseases have been highly untreated. Health facilities and hospitals are still running low on space and resources. They often send those seeking medical attention to makeshift medical centers that have unsanitary conditions, little medicine, and very few doctors. Consequently, those carrying diseases do not get proper treatment and can pass these diseases on to others. Injuries left untreated can become prone to serious infection.

Some critically ill and severely injured patients have been taken to hospitals in other countries, but thousands still remain in the Philippines and in desperate need of medical care.

Mental Health Concerns
As with many natural disasters, survivors of Typhoon Haiyan may be prone to developing mental health conditions. The considerably high death toll, the constant chaos, and the lingering devastation ¬¬¬put survivors at a high risk of developing depression or anxiety. With the ubiquitous loss and despair, health officials can have difficulty finding ways to raise morale and keep people from sinking into a long-lasting depression.

Countries around the world have stepped in to offer aid. Here at the Tufts Public Health & Professional Degree Programs, Dr. Fernando Ona, Assistant Professor of Public Health & Community Medicine, has traveled to the Philippines to assist with relief efforts. We may not all be able to accompany Professor Ona overseas, but we join him in support and well-wishes for everyone affected by Typhoon Haiyan. If you would like to lend your support, check out the links below:
Donate directly to the American Red Cross’s Philippines Relief Fund:

https://www.redcross.org/donate/index.jsp?donateStep=2&itemId=prod4650031

Help the children affected by the typhoon:

http://www.childfund.org/emergency/

Learn about the dozens of other charitable organizations collecting donations for relief funds:

http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=1659#.Uq9DRfRDsUt

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