Helping out in post-disaster situations

Satellite image of Typhoon Haiyan, November 2013, prior to landfall. Source: Wikimedia Commons


November 2013. After settling in my new job as researcher in a health policy institute, Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) struck the Visayas region. Images of devastation, widespread casualty, and inundation were shown in television screens and social media news feeds, locally, and on international media.

As a former community doctor, I was too familiar with how disasters affect the health of thousands, not only in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, but more so as the community struggles to get back on its feet and recover. I wanted to do something to help the local health system of affected areas. I wanted to help, and I wanted to be there.

But challenges soon emerged. Organization of volunteers and resources was a hit-miss affair, as overwhelmed government agencies struggled to make sense of the ensuing logistical chaos. Some volunteer agencies, growing impatient with inevitable bureaucratic delays, unavoidably overstepped certain legal and ethical boundaries, but with the noble purpose of helping people who have not received any aid. Thankfully, I was able to help through networks, and was given the chance to help affected communities in Leyte and Samar. 

Participating in the Typhoon Haiyan response taught me this lesson: there will always be one point that communities are virtually helpless. This is where humanitarian missions come in. 

Because of our sworn duty to provide help and promote healing for the sick and injured, it’s a matter of instinct for many health care professionals to assist in humanitarian missions. Admittedly, these missions are understaffed and overworked. There is a need to promote participation in these missions, to ensure that communities stricken with a natural or manmade disaster receives all the help they need to recover.

As the rainy season begins in the Philippines, it is an opportune time to reflect on how we can promote volunteerism among health care professionals should disasters strike. Let’s discuss these topics:

1) In your capacity, how can you help in a post-disaster situation?

2) What are challenges in helping out during post-disaster situations?

3) How can we encourage other HCPs to help out during post-disaster situations?

See you on 3 June, Saturday, 9PM PHT, 9AM EST at #HealthXPh on Twitter!