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Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last Friday, destroying large areas in a way that some have compared to the Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. After any major disaster, victims who have no access to basic needs – food, water, and shelter – are often also burdened with a myriad of health issues. As future physicians, it is important for us to consider the typhoon’s impact on health and understand what the medical issues are and how they can be/are being addressed.

Performing Surgeries: Volunteer surgeons, such as those from Doctors Without Borders, have been aiding as many patients as possible. Because hospitals have been wiped out, only small surgeries can be performed (such as treating infections from wounds that have not been attended to since the typhoon hit) and many of the surgeries are being performed under flashlight. Many doctors fear that medical supplies are running out but a huge shipment arrived today.

Water and Food-Related Illnesses: Cholera is a bacterial infection of the small intestine that is transmitted through food and water contamination. This is a major concern for Haiyan survivors because of the heat, stagnant water, and a lack of access to clean food and drinking water. The diarrhea and vomiting due to cholera can quickly dehydrate a victim, lead to an electrolyte imbalance, and cause death if not treated. Hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and severe diarrhea are also all major health concerns caused by contaminated food/water. Stagnant water can also cause diseases such as leptospirosis and mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

Tetanus: This disease is also of concern to medical personnel. It is caused by a bacteria that can enter through an open wound and lives in soil, saliva, dust, and manure. It causes the body’s muscles to tighten and can cause lock-jaw, preventing patients from opening their mouths or swallowing. Because of the large number injured who still do not have access to treatment, many are at risk for tetanus. Although there is a vaccine for it, not only does it take a few weeks to begin working, the lack of electricity would make it impossible to have refrigerators to store the vaccine. Physicians are currently prescribing tetanus toxoid immunoglobins for immediate effect.

Mental Health: The mental health of survivors is especially important and should not be ignored. A team of doctors from Doctors Without Borders have been helping survivors deal with the aftermath of the typhoon and are paying special attention to those who had depression prior to the disaster.

Think About:

1. Think about the necessity of doctors in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
2. Consider the doctor to population ratio in the Philippines compared to other places in the world.
3. What other health issues are physicians concerned about?
4. What supplies are most necessary in healing survivors and rebuilding the cities?

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