“We have to act now to ensure the injured do not develop permanent disabilities."
Henri Bonnin is a member of the very first teams sent to the Philippines by Handicap International to respond to the humanitarian emergency. From the outset, he was able to provide valuable support to the medical services and determine the conditions governing the association's intervention. In his opinion, the current priority is to ensure that the injured do not develop permanent disabilities through a lack of appropriate health care. Henri provides this update:
“Most of the medical structures along the trajectory of the typhoon have been heavily damaged. Most of the injured were rapidly identified and had to be evacuated to hospitals in Cebu and Manila. Others, however, remain in the area either in the few remaining structures open or in their current place of residence, often because they are in isolated areas and have been unable to notify the emergency services. One month after the disaster we are starting to see an increasing number of injured people arriving who have not received any kind of health care and who are suffering from complications which may well lead to amputation or permanent disability.
"This is exactly what has happened to this 56-year old man, Anthony, a father of four who lives one and a half hours away from Tacloban. He is diabetic and his injury rapidly became infected. When he arrived at the hospital, 12 days after he was injured, he was in a life-threatening situation and the doctors were only able to save him by amputating his left leg at the femur.
"Anthony is now in a stable condition and we have been able to apply compression bandages to prepare the stump to receive a prosthetic limb. We have also given him a pair of crutches so he does not spend too much time lying down and conserves the muscle tone he will require for the lengthy rehabilitation process ahead. A physiotherapist visits him regularly and does exercises to ensure the muscles and tendons in the amputated leg do not retract, which would seriously compromise his chances of walking again, even with a prosthetic leg.
"This rehabilitation work needs to be started right now with those who have suffered serious injuries. There are people with spinal injuries sustained from falling trees or walls and people with complex fractures. If they do not receive the appropriate care now, they run a high risk of developing permanent disabilities. That is why we have renovated the rehabilitation unit at the Tacloban public hospital which was almost entirely destroyed by the typhoon (View before and after pictures on Facebook).
"Our action rapidly took on a new dimension, leading us to identify and support all those people requiring follow-up. This includes both patients in hospitals, who cannot return home without the required support, and people who have not yet received care because they are physically or socially isolated. For many of these people, the point of no return is right now. Although international attention is turning away from the Philippines, we can testify to the fact that in reality our work is only just beginning."