AMSA-Philippines’ answer to Supertyphoon Haiyan

Supertyphoon Haiyan is the strongest storm in the world, and one of the most devastating to hit the Philippines. As of 18 November, the death toll has reached 3,976, with 18,175 injured and 1,598 still missing. Damage to infrastructure reached about 240 million USD whereas damage to agriculture reached about 210 million USD. An estimated 10 million persons from 44 provinces were affected, with four million displaced from their homes.[1]

With the recent disaster caused by Supertyphoon Haiyan and with the message[2] left by Naderev Saño, Philippine Climate Change Commissioner at #COP19, it has become clear: Climate change is a reality, and more powerful disasters can come into this world if we do not act now. Despite arguments posed by detractor, climate change has been dubbed the biggest global health threat of the 21st century[3]. We in IFMSA reaffirmed this, as stated in the Policy Statement on Climate Change and Health passed in our 62nd General Assembly March Meeting[4].

Climate change can affect many aspects of development. From basic food access, to changing patterns of weather and infectious disease, its impact can reach the many sectors that contribute to health. With this huge threat in global health, what can we mere medical students do?

At this point, we cannot just stop. We need long-term solutions. We need to address other needs of communities aside from alleviating disease.

We can start with awareness. It’s easier to take action when you know a lot of people are supporting your cause simply because they were made aware in the first place. From knowing climate change, we can plan our succeeding actions. Next, we can have training sessions on disaster preparedness and apply them in the future. When disaster strikes, at least we know what we should be doing. Moreover, we can share our knowledge with the public, especially the communities, for they are the ones who really need to be prepared.

ImageFrom these words, it might sound easy to build your defenses against climate change. But what would you do once the disaster strikes? In the case of the Philippines, Typhoon Haiyan, believed to be the strongest storm, caused massive damage to communities and cities. Before the it made landfall, the local government units did their part and followed standard operating procedures in anticipation of the storm. Many of the areas affected actually had years of experience with typhoons, but Haiyan proved to be too strong for those communities to handle. With climate change, storms have become more frequent and more severe, devastating the most vulnerable populations.[5]

The World Health Organization defines disaster as “a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society causing widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses which exceed the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources.[6]”. By themselves, communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan cannot readily go back to its level of functioning. At this time, external help is needed. While donations and relief goods are temporary solutions, they are indispensable in times of need, when people are distraught. Medical assistance and psychological debriefing are also essential to address their health needs. As medical students, we can send donations and volunteer to be part of medical missions or debriefing. At this point, we cannot just stop. We need long-term solutions. We need to address other needs of communities aside from alleviating disease.

Solutions can come from the affected communities themselves. After the recovery of the affected areas, we medical students can immerse in the communities and learn about their experience. We can coordinate with local health workers on what they did in response to disaster, and we can look into how we can improve that response. Emphasis must also be placed on preparedness. When we work with the communities, people’s participation is crucial. Much insight into the problems of the communities can be gained from proactive involvement of the people.

At the policy level, we can lobby for the strengthening of government’s response to disaster and the inclusion of disaster preparedness into medical schools’ curriculum. At the same time, we must not forget to intensify our campaigns on climate change. As the COP 19 is happening now, we must remain vigilant and ensure that public health is protected.

Climate change and disaster risk reduction cannot be separated from one another. Medical students can act on many aspects of these two. Cliche as it sounds, prevention is indeed better than cure. Will we let another Haiyan happen?

The Philippine NMO, AMSA-Philippines, is currently working to help its affected members and countrymen. A call for donations to our disaster relief fund will be sent to IFMSA servers soon. For the sub-acute phase,  we will be sending shoeboxes with hygiene kits and notes of inspiration for Christmas. Aside from these, we are looking into long-term solutions such as training sessions and community immersions. We appreciate your messages of support in these difficult times of our country. Your ideas on this issue are welcome as well! Please do not hesitate to write us at [email protected].

Jim Paulo Sarsagat & Greco Mark B. Malijan
AMSA-Philippines | [email protected] 

Supported by Claudel P-Desrosiers & Anya Gopfert
IFMSA Think Global Initiative | [email protected]

Ps. Interested in Disaster Risk Management? Send an email to IFMSA Permanent Small Working Group on DRM, led by Christopher Schurmann and Moa Herrgard at [email protected].

1. SitRep No. 26 Effects of Typhoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan). National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Republic of the Philippines. 18 November 2013.

2. “It’s time to stop this madness” – Philippines plea at UN climate talks. Responding to Climate Change. 13 November 2013.

3. Costello A, Abbas M, Allen A, Ball S, Bell S, Bellamy R, et al. Managing the health effects of climate change: Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. Lancet. 2009 May 16;373(9676):1693-733. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60935-1.

4. International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations. Policy Statement on Climate Change and Health. 2013 March.

5. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Projected Changes in the Physical Climate System. Fourth Report Assessment: Climate Change 2007.

6. World Health Organization. Definitions: Emergencies. 2013. Humanitarian Health Action.

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