Community volunteers a vital link in post-Typhoon Haiyan health support

Publié: 20 décembre 2013 10:31 CET

By Asuka Suzuki, Japanese Red Cross Society

It has been nearly one month since a Japanese Red Cross Society Emergency Response Unit (ERU) started its medical operations in Maya Barangay, Northern Cebu in the Philippines. And in that time, its members have gone from being strangers in foreign communities to being part of an integrated whole, with one aim in mind: to help survivors of Typhoon Haiyan recover as quickly as possible.

Before deciding where the ERU camp should be set up, Dr. Satoko Otsu, team leader of the ERU made a great effort to collect information about the situation, including paying visits to the district mayor, district hospital, local health care centers, barangay (community) halls, and even offices of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Philippines Department of Health.

Initially, the local mayor requested the ERU set up the medical camp in the southern part of Daanbantayan district, as there are no medical facilities there. However, given that the population density is higher in the north, Dr. Otsu suggested using the mobile clinic to cover the southern region, and set up the camp where more people could easily reach it and also where existing health facilities were damaged. With that decision made, the ERU camp was established in a field where the cultural center used to stand.

In Maya, more than 90 per cent of houses and buildings were destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan along with the school. To meet the health care needs of survivors, Dr. Otsu took a two pronged approach: providing basic health care in response to urgent medical needs after the disaster and strengthening preventive care through education programmes and psychosocial support to build resilience in the community.

“Many humanitarian organizations are deploying in Leyte as it has a high media profile. Rather than doubling the aid to one place, I chose to utilize our abilities for other ‘forgotten’ affected areas. Having considered my team members’ individual capabilities, I decided where I could use them most effectively,” said Dr. Otsu.

“For villages where medical infrastructure is not fully equipped like Maya, the Red Cross medical support is very precious. Even though we started fixing houses with the donated sheets for blown-off roofs, people get cold, sick or even injured while repairing houses. We are very happy to have reliable medical teams here,” said Elver Ali, Maya Barangay Captain.


The Philippine Red Cross is encouraging support to help survivors of typhoon and is mobilizing its large network of volunteers for Red Cross relief and medical activities.

The Japanese Red Cross Society ERU cannot act in isolation and depends heavily on support from people like Wilinda Go and Florianne Adlawan, volunteers who help form the link between the ERU and local communities.

Both live in Cebu City and have nursing qualifications. Their medical knowledge and ability to speak the local Visayan language  are critical to make the ERU’s activities run smoothly. Every day, one accompanies the mobile clinic into the field while the other supports the ERU clinic. “Accompanying the ERU team is a busy task but its valuable work so I don’t feel fatigue at all,” said Wilinda.

Without these two dedicated volunteers it would be much more difficult for the ERU to build good relationships with the local people which are so important for community health care.

Learn more about what Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers do to improve access to health, promote community empowerment and ultimately contribute towards achieving Universal Health Coverage.