For more than 20 years, Americares has been at work in the Philippines. Following Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst storms of the century to hit the country, Americares expanded its emergency programs in a commitment to strengthen health care for people in need. An in-country office and warehouse were established and a team assembled to guide the recovery process and build longer term, sustainable community health programs. One of the first areas of concern was health care access in many communities where the only local health facility had been damaged, thus leaving many vulnerable people without access to medicine and clinical services.
The Philippines, a nation of more than 7,000 islands, is ranked among the world’s most disaster-prone countries due to its location on the typhoon belt and the Pacific earthquake rim – known as the “Ring of Fire”. An average of 20 typhoons per year and 21 active volcanoes, along with mudslides, flooding and earthquakes often cause heavy damage, especially to health facilities and other infrastructure, resulting in many injuries and fatalities due to the inaccessibility of vulnerable communities on many of the islands. And when disaster strikes, our in country team responds. In the last year, the team has mobilized immediately to help survivors of multiple emergencies.
Our Philippines team is currently mobilizing in response to the eruption of the Taal Volcano in Talisay, Philippines, which began spewing ash on January 12. Tens of thousands have been forced to flee as a major eruption threatens.
Other immediate responses include a major Dengue Outbreak. Over 200,000 cases have been reported and the number of deaths reported is nearly 1,000 with the most affected age group from 5-9. The Philippines team has been coordinating response efforts with the government and department of health. The response has focused primarily on prevention efforts in the face of a mosquito borne disease.
In December, Americares responded to Typhoon Kammuri (Tisov), sending a team to support medical missions and provide relief supplies. The storm (equivalent to a Category 4) struck Luzon Province and affected nearly 2 million people.
Previously the Americares Philippines team mounted a relief effort after Super Typhoon Mangkhut (known as Ompong locally) which struck the Philippines with 180 mph winds as the most powerful storm of the season. The team provided emergency medical aid and humanitarian supplies in Northern Luzon.
In addition to emergency aid in other storms last year, Americares responded to the Mayon Volcano activity where 75,000 were evacuated and some sought shelter in nearly 50 evacuation centers.
And while emergency response operations go forward, our team continues our disaster preparedness project in Leyte Province as we work to help health facilities be ready for disasters.
The emergence of mental health issues in the aftermath of disaster has led Americares to develop a targeted program to improve access to Mental Health and Psychosocial Support services (MHPSS) in three municipalities of northern Cebu. The program trains health workers in identifying general mental health issues and local health providers (Barangay Health Workers) on psychosocial interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders.
Overall, the project will strengthen local capacities, advocate for inclusion of mental health in local and regional government priorities, and directly support those living with mental illness through access to medicine and trained health workers. In total, this project will reach 9% of those living in the target municipalities (12,500) and train at least 571 community health workers. Through stronger MHPSS centers in each municipality, trained health workers will be able to provide direct psychosocial support and more quickly identify mental illness for referral and reduce the overall burden from mental illness – leading to stronger, healthier and more productive communities.