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Standing by PH in the long term

09:38 PM December 25, 2013

Accustomed though it is to disasters, the Philippines has taken an extraordinary pummeling in recent months and endured more than its normal portion of pain and distress.

It started in early September with fighting in Zamboanga City and Basilan province that displaced tens of thousands of Filipinos. This was followed five weeks later by the massive earthquake in Bohol that killed scores and deprived hundreds of thousands more of their homes.

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The worst was yet to come. On Nov. 8 Supertyphoon “Yolanda” devastated central Philippines, killing more than 6,000 and adding more than four million to the rolls of the homeless.

The string of tragedies almost makes one lose sight of Typhoon “Pablo,” which just a year ago cut a wide swath of death and destruction through Mindanao. Some communities there are still recovering.

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At the World Health Organization, our hearts go out to the people of the Philippines during this holiday season, especially the grief-stricken, the injured, the bereft, the vulnerable. We wish them a brighter new year and pledge our continuing support as they struggle to rebuild.

We are proud of how WHO has responded to Yolanda. As the extent of the destruction became apparent, we declared a grade-3 emergency, the first ever under our new Emergency Response Framework. This enabled us to speedily deploy WHO resources from as far away as Egypt, Switzerland and the United States to where they were needed most—in the Philippines.

We delivered many tons of medicines and medical equipment. We helped the Department of Health to assess the damage to health facilities, to coordinate the deployment of foreign medical teams—65 in all—and to define actions that could be immediately taken to protect mothers and children and to reduce the risk of disease outbreaks.

After we had done everything we could to meet the emergency needs of the affected Filipinos, we helped organize a vaccination drive against measles and polio, to treat those whose injuries require longer-term care, to assist those learning to live with their new disabilities, to address the psychological needs of those coping with grief and trauma, and to ensure that new mothers, and their babies, get the specialized attention they require.

More than 50,000 children have been vaccinated and many of them given supplementary Vitamin A to boost their immune defenses.

Most disaster responses are marked by an initial emergency phase when aid flows swiftly and copiously. This is often followed by a less intense recovery phase when relief organizations and governments may be less sure of their roles and distracted by events elsewhere.

We encourage the international community to join us in sticking with the Philippines beyond this phase and after the last journalist has moved on to the next big story, to continue supporting the government and the people for the duration of the recovery.

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In the three disaster zones, this means helping to restore normal health services and to prolong access to free primary and emergency health care.

In Zamboanga, it means intervening to help the 1 percent of children who our surveillance tells us are suffering from malnutrition and who our experience tells us have about a 1-in-3 chance of dying from their condition.

In central Philippines, it means attending to the more than 88,000 live births that are expected to happen between now and February and to the potentially life-threatening complications that will inevitably accompany many of them.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Filipinos are picking up the pieces of their lives, but they still need our help.

WHO will provide, and it encourages the rest of the international community to do as well. We were there in the immediate aftermath of the disasters. We are there now during the holiday season. We will be there tomorrow when the challenges are less urgent and visible but no less important to the health and wellbeing of Filipinos.

Julie Hall is the World Health Organization’s representative in the Philippines.

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TAGS: Bohol earthquake, disasters, health, Philippines, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’, typhoon Pablo, Well-Being, WHO, Zamboanga crisis
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