TACLOBAN - Super Typhoon Haiyan has revealed a surprising lack of public health services in many coastal villages in the central Philippines, which local residents said have been in desperate need of more public hospitals even before the deadly disaster.
Analyn D. Rodrigvez, a young mother of five, was overwhelmed by anxiety about her second son, whose fever had lasted for a week. She burst into tears when the international rescue team of the Red Cross Society of China offered to treat him.
"After the typhoon, many hospitals were destroyed, and doctors (from private clinics) were still charging for treatment. But we had no money," Rodrigvez said.
She said no international rescue team had visited her village, Cabacungan, until the Chinese team arrived. The second batch of medics arrived in Tacloban on Friday.
She took Jianne, her 7-year-old son, to the city hall in Leyte's provincial capital, Tacloban, to see a group of Chinese doctors because his symptoms had worsened.
In another coastal village, San Jose, in Durag district, Leyte, a pediatric clinic was shut after the typhoon on Nov 8, and a fallen power pole still blocks the entrance. "Clinic will resume on Dec 2. Thank you!" read a notice on the gate.
Orly Cagara, secretary of Tacloban's municipality, said there is no public hospital or branch in the village. "Usually, the villagers are treated by government medical teams that travel from one place to another, and meeting a doctor is not convenient at all," he said.
As a result, when a group of Chinese doctors from the Red Cross team arrived in San Jose, the team was confronted by hundreds of children running fevers and seniors suffering chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure and asthma.
"More than two weeks have passed since the disaster, and the majority of the patients are here because of the tough living conditions, including excessive exposure to turbulent changes of temperature and frequent rainfall," said Chen Jian, a doctor and professor on the Chinese team from Shanghai Huashan Hospital.
The Chinese team "arrived in a timely manner" because the rainy season of the Philippines is impending. It lasts from November to January, said Cagara, the official.
Elesea M. Tubigon, a 75-year-old woman who has suffered asthma for three years and whose symptoms were aggravated after the typhoon, said senior citizens like her have been ignored by local medical staffs because there were so many children desperate for treatment, but that her medicine ran out a week ago.
"We trust you! We trust you!" she said, sobbing, after Wang Ying, a head nurse of the Chinese team, calmed her symptoms with an albuterol inhaler.
By Tuesday, the Chinese Red Cross team had treated 1,891 local residents since its mission started on Nov 24.
It took more than three hours each day for the Chinese medics to commute from their camp to the disaster-ridden villages.
Not even stopping for lunch, the doctors kept working for more than six hours to make sure all the patients were taken care of before the team left the village at sunset.
During the night, villagers sleep on the ground on thin mattresses. Many have arms swollen with mosquito bites, and eczema is also common.
To eliminate language barriers and inform their patients how to take the medicines provided, the doctors have tried to learn simple local vocabulary, writing down equivalent Chinese syllables to help them memorize the sounds.
The local children - the most vocal aged around 10 - displayed a great interest in learning Mandarin and pressed Tang Hong, a Chinese team member, to teach them how to say "Chinese Red Cross".
"They are really smart, quick learners," Tang said.
The children also asked how to say, "Thank you for helping us", in Chinese and practiced until their pronunciation was close to perfect.
When it was getting dark and the doctors were getting ready to leave, they were surprised to see a sign painted on the wall of a basketball playground across the road, which read, "Thank you!!! China Red Cross!"