An Earthquake, a Typhoon, and the Incredible Resilience of the VisayasHealth Project Team in the Philippines

On Friday November 8, one of the most powerful typhoons in recorded history smashed into the Philippines, killing at least 3,633 people. Typhoon Haiyan hit just a few weeks after an earthquake struck Bohol Province—the deadliest in 23 years. 

Fortunately, all VisayasHealth Project colleagues in the Philippines are safe after both disasters. Our office is up and running, and everyone is reporting back to work, even though four people’s families lost their homes and have temporarily relocated to Cebu. 

“I want to highlight the incredible leadership and resilience of our team,” says Paul Perchal, Vice President of Program Management. “I don’t know how, but spirits seem to be high as well for those who lost their homes. I have to credit the leadership—under Dr. Jose Rodriguez, Chief of Party of our VisayasHealth project, and Dr. Susana Madarieta, Deputy Chief of Party—they’ve really been able to keep people’s spirits high, motivate people, and ensure that everyone’s needs are taken care of while supporting the broader relief response.”

While the outpouring of support from the international community has been immense, our colleagues are disappointed and disheartened with the government’s response. Aid has been slow to trickle down to the people who most need it. 

After both disasters, our country team has responded by assessing how we can best help. After the earthquake, our team was responsible for coordinating all of USAID’s relief efforts in an area of Bohol Province, which involved providing emergency hygiene kits. Because the structural damage was so great and many roads and health facilities were unusable, days after the earthquake health providers used ambulances as sanitary areas for safe deliveries.

Now, in response to the typhoon, the team is providing emergency food and water while the U.S. government is mobilizing the military to assist with the response. By Friday, November 22, the team provided relief goods to more than 14,000 families. All hands are on deck facilitating the logistics—from procurement, to repacking of relief items, to the turnover to the local government.

For the next couple of weeks, our efforts will continue to be diverted to support USAID’s relief efforts to distribute emergency aid. Once the rebuilding of health facilities takes place, which will be done by other donors and partners, we will direct our efforts back to our original work. In the meantime, our team is helping local health authorities establish temporary sanitary health services, so that care can continue to be provided to those in need, while continuing to support ongoing health services in unaffected areas of the region.