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Mass. General team begins work to reach remote areas hit by Typhoon Haiyan

Driving north from the city of Cebu, into areas harder hit by Typhoon Haiyan, on Tuesday Dr. Miriam Aschkenasy thought about Hurricane Katrina.

“You’re driving in and things look fine, and then slowly you see a couple of downed trees and then, all of a sudden, every single telephone pole is down,” said Aschkenasy, deputy director of global disaster response at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Global Health. Sheet metal roofs of homes “look somebody took a curling iron to the bottom of them, or they are gone completely.”

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Aschkenasy is one of seven people from the hospital -- two doctors, four nurses, and a pharmacist -- who arrived in the Philippines Monday to work with International Medical Corps.

The group, which includes two Filipinos, has been working from their base at a hotel in Cebu, the second largest city in the Philippines which avoided the worst of the storm, while the organizers search for an area to set up more permanent operations wherever they can be most helpful.

On Thursday, the group flies to the Western Visayas region, to start their work in hard-hit coastal communities east of Roxas City. Her team is self-sufficient, with the equipment and experience they need to set up camp, if necessary, and make their own potable water.

“I think that we are going to go out as rural as we can to make sure that those communities are being touched, are being serviced in some way,” she said, in an interview Wednesday morning (evening, in Cebu, which is 13 hours ahead of Boston).

At a rural health center on Tuesday, Ashckenasy’s team saw nearly 200 patients in an hour and a half, though there were fewer storm-related injuries and illnesses than she expected.

“It was very quick,” she said. “Most people were just looking for the comfort of being checked.”

Aschkenasy said she expects to see cases of measles, infectious diarrhea, and tetanus from untreated wounds suffered during the storm and cleanup. Plus, many people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or asthma are suffering because they can’t get necessary medications or treatment.

Aschkenasy said a couple of the health centers she visited Tuesday were run by very competent midwives, but some communities could benefit from more services, she said.

“There’s not as much access to primary care in the rural communities, so I think this will be an opportunity to bolster that as things transition out of relief into recovery,” she said.

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.
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