- On September 4, 2019
- September / October 2019
Philippines: Medical Mission
Less than 10 years on from the devastating Super Typhoon Yolanda, the city of Tacloban is still rebuilding. Dr Matthew Allan shares his family’s experience providing medical aid to the area.
It was a little over 12 months ago when I saw an advertisement looking for doctors and nurses to volunteer on a medical mission to the Philippines. I had never been a part of anything similar and I mentioned it to my wife. Having three children means leaving home can be a little difficult, but after making enquiries my wife and I realised it was possible for all of us to go. Well, mostly all of us, with grandparents kindly offering to look after our two year old. So I signed up, along with my wife, Jess (a registered nurse), and our two oldest children, Lucy (9), and Felix (7).
In January 2019, we joined a small international group of doctors, nurses and non-medical volunteers as we set out for the Philippines as part of the inaugural Trips Plus medical tour. The brain child of social entrepreneur Justin Pagato, the idea was to team up with local charity Operation Blessing in one of their medical missions. It was also a chance to explore the country and culture of the Philippines.
2013 saw the city of Tacloban in the Philippines devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda. The storm killed over 6000 people and left the city in tatters. It is the deadliest typhoon to ever cross into the Philippines. It has been estimated that close to 90% of all structures in Tacloban were damaged or destroyed. The city has slowly been rebuilt but Yolanda’s trail of destruction is still etched into the fabric of the Tacloban landscape. Today the city is one of the largest in the province of Leyte and home to over 250,000 people.
The aim of the medical trip was to provide medical care in small villages on the outskirts of the city where regular healthcare is very hard to come by. A three-day operation over two different locations saw more than 800 local people get access to medical care. The contingent of nurses and doctors from Australia, New Zealand, and the US included paediatricians, general practitioners and rural generalists. We were aided by local general practitioners, dentists, a cardiologist and an ophthalmologist.
In an outdoor basketball court, we managed to triage and treat all who came. There was a considerable burden of chronic disease, such as diabetes, hypertension and dental decay. Several patients were also able to be referred through local networks with the help of charitable funding to receive higher level specialist care. Jess and I were definitely out of our comfort zone as we quickly realised that the medical supplies and equipment we rely on at home were not available here and there was a very limited pharmaceutical formulary.
Health promotion played a big part with our nurses running education sessions on dental hygiene and asthma management. Many local asthmatics are treated with either salbutamol tablets or by nebulised salbutamol via a shared village nebuliser. Our volunteer nurses were able to distribute metered dose salbutamol inhalers and demonstrate the construction of makeshift spacers.
The trip was an excellent cultural experience for our kids. When Lucy and Felix weren’t helping in the clinic they enjoyed playing with the local kids. I am glad they got a chance to work with their mum and dad. This was an immersive experience for all of us and they even picked up a little Tagalog dialect along the way.
After the medical mission was completed our group embarked on a several-day tour of Leyte and across the sea to Cebu. It was a chance to explore the stunning natural geography of the Philippines, experience local cuisine and practice our Tagalog. We were able to explore the Sohoton cave system and a daytrip to the tropical Kalanggaman Island. Trips Plus is planning another similar trip, February 1-11, 2020 to the Philippines. It is hoped that continued trips will provide medical aid to areas that are most in need, create local jobs and help build local communities.
For more information go to tripsplus.org
Article contributed by Dr Matthew Allan, who is a general practitioner from Milton, NSW