MANILA - Philippine health authorities are checking for signs of disease and trauma among evacuees staying in government shelters five days after Taal Volcano's ash explosion displaced thousands of families.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said many elderly residents were traumatized after the volcano spewed a giant ash cloud 55,000 feet into the air last Sunday.
"They thought it was the end of the world...especially in the initial days of the volcanic eruption that, not only did it spew ash and pyroclastic materials, but also the thunder, the lightning that were coming out," Duque said in an interview on ANC's Headstart.
Trained psychosocial health officers are now working in tandem with the Department of Social Welfare and Development to make services more responsive to the people in the evacuation centers.
Book reading, games and even religious events are being held in evacuation centers to divert the minds of the evacuees from the trauma of the volcanic eruption, Duque said.
"This will certainly be difficult to manage if we don't respond to them immediately through psychosocial mental health services and other appropriate interventions," he said.
Authorities are also on the lookout for possible outbreaks of disease in evacuation centers.
"We are ready for whatever immunization might be needed and also daily reporting of disease surveillance has been put in order," he said.
Thousands of displaced residents are now in various evacuation centers after Taal volcano erupted on Sunday, spewing ash and other volcanic debris to nearby towns and other areas in Luzon, including Metro Manila.
The ash fall also posed as threat to health, especially those with pre-existing conditions.
"In the vulnerable areas where the volume of ash fall has been really massive, these are the people that we need to prioritize, those with pre-existing conditions have to be really monitored and taken cared of," he said.
Duque said the ash fall may exacerbate the condition of elderly people who are already suffering from bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma and other lung conditions.
"As to the general population exposed, those who are not suffering from any pre-existing conditions, they must continue to be wearing masks at all times to minimize the inhalation of toxic chemicals that's mixed with the volcanic ash falls," he said.
He said toxic chemicals like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, fluorine and silica are not just irritants but can be damaging to the lung tissue.
The health department has so far handed out close to 27,000 N95 masks and around 300,000 disposable surgical masks to residents.
"It's pretty obvious that the ash fall could really be a source of irritation for the lungs, the nose, the throat causing coughs and really is deleterious to the health of our people thus the DOH giving out the N95 mask," he said.
Aside from issuing health hazard advisories, the DOH has also ordered a price freeze on face masks, medicines and other medical supplies in areas hit by Taal's eruption.
"This includes drugs and medicines that will address expected health conditions and illnesses in the evacuation centers like anti-cough, analgesics, antipyretics, anti-diarrheal, psychotherapeutic medicines and the whole gamut of medicines that will address common illnesses encountered in the evacuation centers and also other health devices or products like N95 masks, disposal face masks, nebulizers, and other related gadgets," he said.
Duque reminded traders engaged in massive profiteering that they will be dealt with the full force of the law.