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Doctors overwhelmed by sick, needy in Philippines

MANILA — Hundreds of injured people, pregnant women, children and the elderly have been crowding into a small building behind the control tower of this city’s airport, one of the few places to find medical care here.

The few doctors here said Wednesday they’ve been treating cuts, fractures and pregnancy complications but expect that soon they will be faced with more serious problems such as pneumonia, dehydration, diarrhea and infections.

“Certainly there are many people who had chronic illnesses before this disaster struck who need to be taken to the medical treatment center that area still working,” said Mathias Eick, Regional Information Officer, East, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, European Commission- Directorate General for Humanitarian and Civil Protection.

“You have the elderly, small children, babies who are being born, there are many things.”

But because there is no clean running water, he said, the risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera will increase and that could cause serious trouble.

“You have people sleeping out in the open, so malaria or dengue could be a threat,” he said. “There are thousands of injured people who need medical treatment, and many of the medical facilities have also been damaged so they are working under very truing circumstances.”

Getting in good clean water is a priority, said U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos after touring Tacloban.

Very little aid has arrived in the city because of clogged roads, broken bridges and ports, and an airport that until today was not able to operate at night given the electricity went out on the Friday that the typhoon hit and has not been restored. Power generators were flooded as well.

Most of the aid is stuck in Manila and the nearby airport of Cebu, a 45-minute flight away.

“There’s a lot of dead bodies outside. There’s no water, no food,” said Dr. Victoriano Sambale, one of the dozen medical workers tending to thousands of people at the airport clinic.

Until Wednesday there was no anesthetic.

“Patients had to endure the pain,” Sambale said.

Clutching her swollen belly, 26-year-old Reve Rose was writhing on her side on a wooden bench as her husband looked on. Her first child was not due until around Christmas, but she feared she was in labor already. Sambale felt her belly and tried to calm her down, certain it was just a panic attack.

“I am nervous, sad,” she said. “The house is lost. Everything is gone.”

Thelma Superable, 74, was vomiting and needed emergency dialysis. She, her 51-year-old son, Danny Superable, and his young son have made their way to the clinic from their home, 20 miles away, by walking and hitching rides.

“I am trembling because I am hungry,” Danny Superable said. “It’s survival of the fittest.”

The government says planes, ships and trucks were on their way with generators, water-purifying kits and emergency lights. The U.S. military said it was installing equipment to allow the damaged Tacloban airport to operate at night.

Rick said more doctors and medical help is needed but there will be a great need to fly people in serious distress. The Belgian government was setting up a field hospital hospital Wednesday with doctors and nurses who can help with basic health needs, he said.

“But certainly more chronic or serious cases will have to be evacuated from the zone and taken somewhere where there are still functioning health institutions,” he said.

But it could all be overwhelmed with an epidemic of diseases from people drinking dirty water and exposure to filth.

“There could be other threats from especially the lack of proper sanitation facilities, children in the open getting chronic coughs or lung infections,” he said. “All these issues are a threat to the population at the moment.”

Contributing: The Associated Press
Featured Photo: Kevin Frayer, Getty Images
November 14, 2013
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