BAGANGA, Philippines - A team of health workers from the Japanese Red Cross Society is leading a basic health care unit that opened Thursday in an area of Mindanao island that was hit by a strong typhoon a month ago.
Set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baganga town in Davao Oriental province, the health care unit has seven members running it, including three nurses and an engineer from Japan.
The other members are a Norwegian nurse, a midwife from Hong Kong and a German medical doctor. Local health workers have also been hired to support the operation projected to last for at least three months.
"Our aim for this Basic Health Care Unit is to fill the gap with regard to the services that is lacking from local capacity. We hope to help in bringing back the medical services there to its level before the typhoon struck," ICRC communication officer Hitomi Makabe told Kyodo News.
Baganga, an agricultural town facing the Pacific Ocean with more than 53,000 residents, was the first to be directly hit by Typhoon Bopha last Dec. 4.
The typhoon, packing winds of 175 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 210 kph, flattened almost all structures in Baganda, blew away even concrete roofs, toppled trees and electric posts, and killed more than 170 people and left more than 30 people missing.
The government estimates the cost of damage in the town to be almost 363 million pesos (around $8.8 million).
Across all affected provinces, Bopha killed more than 1,000 people and left more than 800 missing, and damaged almost 37 billion pesos worth of properties, infrastructure and agricultural products.
"What happened here, for me, wasn't a typhoon. It was like the tsunami and earthquake calamities in Japan," said Akiko Ito, a Japanese nurse who leads the seven-member team.
"You can see, the roofs of the houses are gone and people have no place to live. While there've been provisions of tents, tarpaulins, food and water, their rural health unit building also collapsed so there's no space for in-patients. So, while waiting for the medical facilities, we're here."
The health care unit is made up of five tents to house a consultation and physical examination desk, a dressing area, a checkup area for a patient's vital signs, an observation room that can allow a patient to stay for 24 hours and get intravenous fluids, a pharmacy, a mother's health care unit, and a psychosocial support center.
"Here, we're not going to do surgical procedures, but mainly, just consultation. We can also cater to pregnant ladies, those with not complicated cases. We'll provide health education and hygiene promotion, and we can keep patients here if they need to be observed for 24 hours. If their conditions don't improve, we'll transfer them to the rural health care unit in the neighboring town," Ito said.
Makabe said the health care unit attended to a total of 71 patients during its first day of operations on Thursday.
She said that aside from the health care unit in Baganga, the ICRC, which has more than 40 personnel in the area, has extended support to other areas affected by Typhoon Bopha, including a hospital in Cateel town, clean water provisions and other immediate needs.
The ICRC launched an appeal to the international community to be able to raise $10.8 million on Dec. 13, she said.
Many other nongovernmental organizations, private institutions, international institutions, foreign governments and local government units have also given assistance to the affected areas.
"We have high hopes that soon Baganga will rise because many NGOs promised to help us," Baganga municipal administrator Evangeline Nazareno said.