Boston medical teams aid typhoon victims

Doctors, nurses travel to Philippines

Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan sat atop their newly rebuilt shanty on Sunday in Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines. Some electricity is available to residents in small amounts through diesel generators. There is no running water, but people were receiving water supplied by tankers.
Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan sat atop their newly rebuilt shanty on Sunday in Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines. Some electricity is available to residents in small amounts through diesel generators. There is no running water, but people were receiving water supplied by tankers.DONDI TAWATAO/GETTY IMAGES

Doctors and nurses from Boston hospitals are rushing to typhoon-devastated sections of the Philippines to aid survivors who for more than a week have faced a scarcity of food and drinking water; little protection from sun, wind, and rain; and, in many cases, no access to health care.

Dr. Hilarie Cranmer, director of disaster response for Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Global Health and a veteran of disaster sites, said they would encounter bleak scenes.

“The team is going to be facing horrible conditions,” Cranmer said . “It’s going to be a prolonged, protracted recovery effort over the next few months.”

The seven-member team departed Sunday morning, and another MGH team made up of as many as 60 doctors and nurses is expected to leave within the next two weeks, hospital officials said. Already, six doctors from Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center have arrived in the island nation devastated by Typhoon Haiyan on Nov. 8.

According to figures released Sunday by the Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, nearly 4,000 people died and more than 18,000 were injured in the typhoon.


Dr. Gregory Ciottone, director of Beth Israel’s Disaster Medicine Training Program, said Sunday that the program has partnered with Global Rapid Rescue and Relief and sent two doctors to the devastated city of Tacloban, one of the hardest-hit areas in the nation of 106 million residents.

In Tacloban, the doctors expect to help the Philippine government reopen a deserted hospital.

A second team of four Beth Israel doctors was traveling Sunday from the capital city of Manila to Cebu, where many injured Filipinos from rural areas are being brought, Ciottone said. A third group of doctors is expected to fly to the Philippines later in the week, he said.

MGH is working with two international aid organizations to provide relief. Through its partnership with the International Medical Corps, it sent a team Sunday that includes two doctors, four nurses, and a pharmacist to Cebu for a 21-day deployment, Cranmer, MGH’s director of disaster response said.


Cranmer, who has provided disaster relief following Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, and the Haitian earthquake of 2010, said the team’s pharmacist, Carmela Berlin, and one physician, Dr. Roberto Coganda, are Filipino-Americans who speak Tagalog, the most common language of the Philippines, as well as other dialects.

“They’re great because they’re helping not just with medical support but with logistics [and] giving language lessons” to other medical personnel, she said.

MGH is also working with the humanitarian organization Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) and the US Navy to assemble a team of up to 60 physicians, nurses, and social workers that will leave Boston close to Thanksgiving, according to Jeanette Ives Erickson, the hospital’s chief nurse.

Frederick Gerber, director for special programs and operations for Project HOPE, said Sunday that the organization was planning multiple three-week rotations of medical professionals recruited from MGH and other US hospitals.

He said a Project HOPE assessment team was on the ground in the Philippines to determine the best locations and timing to maximize their efforts.

“They’re seeing a lack of food, a lack of drinking water,” Gerber said. “They’re running out of fuel. . . . The standard things you would see in any natural disaster.”

Filipino doctors and nurses are torn between their professional duties and concerns about their own families, he said. Support from their American counterparts will allow them time to look after relatives.


Adding to the medical needs is the insufficient number of functioning hospitals to care for those with injuries, infections, or communicable diseases.

“A lot of their health facilities are damaged, unsafe to work in,” he said. “A lot of those have been abandoned; some haven’t.”

Ciottone, the Beth Israel disaster medicine specialist, said that after any natural catastrophe, there is a first wave of injuries caused by the incident, followed by a wave of illness caused by lack of sanitary conditions and access to care. Those with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, may have no access to the treatments that make their illnesses controllable.

Erickson, the MGH nurse, said doctors and nurses are also needed to provide everyday medical care, including maternity care.

“Babies will continue to be born, and we hope that is a role that we can play . . . to bring new life into the world,” she said.

Ciottone said medical professionals and aid workers have learned from missteps in previous relief efforts and are increasingly well-trained and coordinated.

“Each time we do this . . . we try to look back and see how we could do it better,” Ciottone said. “I think the world is making steady progress on that. I think it’s better almost every time.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.