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Health systems thrive in post-disaster period

Posted By: John P. Howe, III, M.D. on March 2, 2015

Labels: Indonesia, The Philippines , Disaster-Relief

Through compassion and determination, hope can emerge from some of the most destructive natural disasters.  One year after Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines, and ten years after the devastating tsunami in Indonesia in 2004, Project HOPE is still in both countries helping to rebuild the health care system and  improve the health of women and children through sustainable, long-term health projects. 

This week, I had the privilege of visiting our programs in both countries.  

We began in the Philippines, where I met with the leadership of Ferring Pharmaceuticals Asia to discuss our new partnership designed to address one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in the Philippines – post-partum hemorrhage.  I then travelled with our team to the Province of Cebu to witness the amazing work our experts are doing post-typhoon to improve the health of women and children and strengthening the health system. Our first stop was the island of Camotes, a remote municipality hard-hit by the storm. To get there, we took a two-hour, 25-foot speed boat that left no article of clothing dry, no matter the number of ponchos, trash bags and shower caps used. 

Calamante Brangay Health Station

In Camotes, we met our local staff and participated in the ribbon-cutting of the Calamante Barangay Health Station (BHS).  The BHS structure was badly damaged by the typhoon. With a dedicated team of Project HOPE volunteers, supported by the Mazzetti engineering group, HOPE was able to rebuild the BHS to withstand future storms and provide a sustainable, environmentally-friendly solar power and water purification system to give the BHS continual electricity and potable water – a first in the municipality. We met with the three mayors of Camotes, the midwives and Barangay Health Workers, and the beneficiaries – all expressed their sincere, heartfelt thanks and appreciation for what was accomplished.  I was thrilled to hear from the senior midwife that when Typhoon Ruby stuck last December, seven families spent several nights in the BHS, using it as a storm shelter. It was one of the few places that kept its lights on and its water running.  

Camotes Pilar sea ambulance

Next, we traveled to the even more remote island of Pilar. The island does not have its own district hospital, which requires patients to pay for a long, oar-propelled canoe ride back to Camotes.  After Typhoon Haiyan, Project HOPE refurbished and donated a motor-propelled, larger canoe (called a “banca boat”), and converted it into a dedicated sea ambulance. We took the sea ambulance from Camotes to Pilar, completing the journey in less than an hour. The boat had a propitious start – its first christened voyage last year took a a very pregnant woman from Pilar to Camotes. While en route, the baby decided he was ready to see the world sooner than expected and was successfully delivered on the banca! In Pilar, we attended a second ribbon cutting ceremony for a similarly damaged BHS in the barangay of Moabog. It was a wonderful opportunity to highlight the powerful work completed by the HOPE volunteers and HOPE’s enduring friendship with the Philippine people. Finally, we visited the local elementary school where the HOPE construction team, on their own initiative, rebuilt the school’s outdoor stage and donated boxes of school supplies and materials to the children. We met with the Mayor,  the school principal and enjoyed a colorful ceremony, with children expressing their appreciation for Project HOPE through wonderful song and dance.

It was a true honor to meet the Vice Governor of Cebu, the Honorable Agnes Magpale, and a local matriarch of Cebu, Ms. Lorenza Ford.  Of note, Ms. Ford’s daughter, Dr. Patricia Ford, was instrumental in the initial medical mission response immediately following the onslaught of Typhoon Haiyan.  I was again reminded by the Vice Governor and the community at large about the amazing impact our volunteers have made on the health and welfare of the people of these precious islands, all with the support of our generous donors and partners .

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