‘Doctors on Boats’ ride out to flood victims’ rescueBy Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
After the Coast Guard, members of the Philippine National Police and other first responders, it’s the doctors’ turn to get into rubber boats and ride out to the rescue of flood victims.
Volunteers from the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) and officials of the Department of Health led by Secretary Enrique Ona Sunday launched land and water-based medical missions for communities affected by last week’s widespread flooding due to nonstop monsoon rains.
Dr. Eric Tayag, director of the National Epidemiology Center, said that the “Doctors on Boats” program was especially geared toward reaching areas that had been isolated due to flooding.
For the PMA, the medical missions are aimed at preventing a hike in cases of flood-related diseases.
For this purpose, the group is deploying teams composed of doctors, dentists, midwives, nurses and psychiatrists to attend to the medical and psychosocial needs of residents in affected areas, PMA spokesperson Dr. Mike Aragon said.
In the next days, the teams will also be bringing essential medicines, relief goods and clean water to peo ple still trapped in their houses in Marikina City, Quezon City, Malabon and parts of Central Luzon.
For its first stop, the medical mission went to Barangay Dampalit in Malabon where the streets remain underwater four days after the skies cleared.
When they reached got there, Ona and some of the doctors had to transfer to a small canoe in order to get to the barangay hall where hundreds of residents were waiting for them. The other medical personnel were ferried to the area in a large military truck.
Increase in diseases
Health officials expressed concern that the unsanitary conditions, which usually last for weeks, could expose residents to viruses and bacteria and lead to illnesses like diarrhea, leptospirosis and dengue fever.
At the moment, however, no outbreaks of flood-related diseases have been reported in Dampalit with the residents’ chief medical complaints limited to the common cold, fever and headache.
The DOH, however, distributed paracetamol, doxycycline and other antibiotics to help prevent leptospirosis, fungal diseases and upper respiratory tract infection. It also gave out clean water.
Macaria Batillo, a resident of the area, said she was there because one of her granddaughter had a slight fever. According to her, the first floor of their home was submerged in floodwater at the height of the record-breaking monsoon rains that paralyzed almost 80 percent of the metropolis. “But we are used to it,” she told the Inquirer.
The PMA Doctors on Boats program was first implemented during the onslaught of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in 2009. At that time, doctors and psychosocial counselors braved the floods and got into boats to bring vital medicines, relief goods and drinking water to families trapped in their flooded homes.
The program was reactivated last year when “Pedring” struck Central Luzon.
In December, doctors were again called into action when Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Negros Oriental were devastated by “Sendong.”
Aragon said that the missions, aside from providing medical assistance, was aimed toward helping victims cope with disaster.
“Statistics show that there is an increase of mental problems after calamities. The traumatic experiences of calamity victims can lead to mental stress, depression and even suicide in severe cases,” he said.
Dr. Imelda Batar, a psychiatrist who was involved in the program, said that medical missions and relief operations not only provide aid to affected communities; they also help reassure affected residents that they are not alone in their difficulties.