WHO Calls Typhoon's Medical Challenges 'Monumental' : Shots - Health News As horrific as Haiyan has been, the disaster likely won't reach the same level of death and injury as the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 or Haiti's 2010 quake, disaster specialists say. Better communication systems in the disaster area are one reason why.
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WHO Calls Typhoon's Medical Challenges 'Monumental'

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WHO Calls Typhoon's Medical Challenges 'Monumental'

WHO Calls Typhoon's Medical Challenges 'Monumental'

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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Four days after Typhoon Haiyan pounded the Philippines, relief efforts are finally beginning to reach the worst-hit areas. Almost 10 million Filipinos have been affected by what's being described as one of the strongest storms ever recorded. And now, another storm is on the way. A tropical depression named Zoraida is pushing into the region, complicating one of the most challenging medical-relief efforts since the Indian ocean tsunami nine years ago. NPR's Richard Knox report.

RICHARD KNOX, BYLINE: The World Health Organization calls Haiyan a Category 3 disaster, the most severe.

DR. RICHARD BRENNAN: It's monumental. The scale is, obviously, huge. This is one of the biggest emergencies that we've dealt with for some time.

KNOX: That's Dr. Richard Brennan, the WHO's director of emergency risk management and humanitarian response.

BRENNAN: Reports from some government officials are talking about up to 10,000 deaths, and information is still coming in; a huge number of injuries, perhaps five major injuries for every death.

KNOX: Brennan says the typhoon's damage is reminiscent of the tsunami. But the typhoon is not expected to claim nearly as many lives. The tsunami killed around 230,000 people in 13 countries. And the earthquake that struck Haiti nearly four years ago was even deadlier, killing 316,000. Still, Brennan says the enormous geographic spread of devastation, and the disruption of roads and airports, add up to a logistical nightmare.

BRENNAN: Health needs are still going to be enormous. And the challenges in delivering assistance are going to be huge as well.

KNOX: Dr. Hilarie Cranmer ticks off a long list of looming health threats: wound infections, tetanus, respiratory infections, starvation. She's a disaster-relief specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital who responded to both the tsunami and Haiti's earthquake.

DR. HILARIE CRANMER: The most common problem will be death due to dehydration from diarrhea, just from simple lack of clean water.

KNOX: And Cranmer sees other infectious-disease threats in the weeks and months ahead: measles, rabies, meningitis - even polio, which has been officially eradicated from the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Brennan says, everyday medical needs will still need attention. For instance, more than 95,000 pregnant women live in the typhoon zone.

BRENNAN: So we can expect thousands of children to be born over the coming weeks. They need access to good obstetric care. Even in normal circumstances, 15 percent of those women would have a complication from their delivery.

KNOX: But the Philippines has some advantages over Indonesia or Haiti. Cranmer says the nation has a pretty good medical and public health infrastructure.

CRANMER: The Philippines are not considered the lowest of the low, in terms of developing nation status. In fact, they probably do better on some indicators than the States do. (Laughter)

KNOX: A report put out yesterday by the Philippine government has incredible detail on lost and damaged houses; numbers of displaced people, down to the village level; road closures; even pages of known victims, listed by name and cause of death.

And the Philippines has another advantage. Thanks to sat-phones and speedy restoration of cellphone service, post-disaster communications are much better than in 2004. So resources can be precisely targeted to the areas of greatest need.

Richard Knox, NPR News.

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