In the wake of the massive typhoon which struck the Philippines on November 8, four medical personnel from Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center were recruited to join the IDF Medical and Rescue Response Team dispatched to the affected zone.
Shaare Zedek Deputy Director General Dr. Ofer Merin, who has held leadership positions in previous IDF rescue efforts in Haiti and Japan, was responsible for coordinating efforts of the Field Hospital set up on the ground in the Philippines in Bogo City, the only medical aid facility in the island of Cebu. Merin is also Director of Shaare Zedek’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Program, as well as the Trauma Unit.
Joining him from Shaare Zedek Medical Center were Dr. Giora Weiser, a senior physician in the Glaubach Department of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Dr. Sefi Mendlovich, also of the Pediatric Department and Dr. Avi Alpert of the Weinstock Department of Emergency Medicine. All of them have extensive IDF Medical Corps training in rescue and recovery missions.
Dr. Merin said that Israel’s scout team had decided to establish the field hospital in a remote area that lacked medical facilities. “We established our field hospital here, in Bogo City, alongside a hospital that usually has two-three physicians per shift,” Merin said. The hospital serves a city of nearly 80,000 people and an island of 250,000, and Merin said he had not seen any other international medical teams in the region.
In the first four days the IDF Field Hospital saw nearly 300 patients a day, including many who were injured by Typhoon Haiyan or unable to care for chronic conditions due to lack of running water or electricity. At least 12 babies, most premature, were delivered by the IDF in those first days, including one named Israel. “If we wouldn’t have been here there would have been one nurse or one physician treating all of them,” said Dr. Ofer Merin, who was the Medical Manager of the IDF facility that was attached to the local hospital. “I am not sure what would have happened if we had not been around.”
Merin said that the Israeli team operated in “hot and humid” conditions, adding, “Physical conditions are part of the challenge.”
The staff saw three distinct groups of patients, he said. The bulk of them suffered from injuries sustained as a direct result of the typhoon. “They suffered from what we, in the Western world, would call minor injuries,” Merin explained. “But these injuries, left untreated, can cause secondary infections.” Therefore, the cleaning of wounds and administration of simple antibiotics were having life-saving effects.
The second group included those who were suffering from diseases that had been under control before the typhoon struck. “The lack of running water, the lack of electricity and the lack of medical treatment pushed the chronic illnesses and the more-or-less stable diseases out of control,” he said.
And finally, there were those who have suffered from diseases that have gone untreated for years, manifesting in the sort of advanced-stage cancer, for instance, that is seldom seen in hospitals in Israel.
The Israeli delegation treated 2,686 patients at its Field Hospital, 848 of whom were children. They delivered a total of 36 babies, including seven successful emergency Caesarian sections and performed 52 surgeries. The Israelis left behind an x-ray machine, basic equipment and supplies for a delivery room and $500,000 worth of medicines for adults and children.