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If Childbirth Isn't Hard Enough, Add An Earthquake And A Typhoon


When Typhoon Haiyan hit last Friday, parts of the country were already in desperate shape following a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck October 15. The epicenter of that quake was under the island province of Bohol southeast of Tacloban. Since then, a number of makeshift medical facilities have been set up to treat patients with a wide range of issues.

Earlier, we reached Dr. Angelito Umali, maternal health officer for the United Nation's Population Fund in the Philippines. He's in Bohol coordinating the group's response to the two natural disasters.

ANGELITO UMALI: We have makeshift tents. We have temporary health facilities and we were able to provide the basic equipment. In the facility that we have right now, we had at least three deliveries while we were able to provide basic emergency care. We were using emergency lights and emergency lamps because there is no electricity.

CORNISH: And how big a need is there for maternal healthcare following a disaster like an earthquake or a typhoon?

UMALI: Very big in terms of ensuring that the lifelines are still available. At any given point in time there would be pregnant needing special care. The food that is being provided at the evacuation centers, that's not going to be enough to address the nutritional needs of pregnant women and lactating mothers. And because the health facilities are quite far, we have cases already of women giving birth in boats on the way to the health facilities.

CORNISH: Giving birth on boats, you said.

UMALI: Yes, yes, yes.

CORNISH: I understand that in the Philippines, upwards of 40 percent of women actually gave birth at home, that that was a tradition. And how is that changed or affected by the disaster?

UMALI: We are expecting a further increase, especially here in Bohol. It's because families are quite afraid or traumatized by the successive aftershocks. They are afraid, actually, to travel outside their homes. They are actually afraid that if they go to a bigger building, they might be trapped inside. But nevertheless what we had been advocating and working with provincial officials is that in as much we ensure that skilled birth attendants will still be there to ensure that clean delivery is still intact.

CORNISH: Help us understand. I mean just how badly affected were your current emergency operations affected by the typhoon? I mean are you still able to get the supplies that you need?

UMALI: The biggest problem right now with the typhoon that struck, the electricity that supplies Bohol is coming from Tacloban, so so far for the past week there has been no electricity in the whole island of Bohol. The water system is being run by electricity and the province is having difficulties in terms of coming up with a more sustainable supply of water.

CORNISH: What are some of your concerns and needs going forward, especially for these areas that are now so hard hit by the typhoon?

UMALI: It's a matter of conducting mobile clinics for those pregnant women within evacuation centers, if they are still in evacuation centers, and ensuring that even in the far-flung villages, that health services are still available. We are now one month after the earthquake that struck. We are seeing the need for more in terms of reestablishing the functionality of these health centers so that we won't be relying as much in terms of bringing these pregnant women to far hospitals that would take at least three to four hours to reach.

CORNISH: Dr. Umali, thank you so much for speaking with us.

UMALI: Okay, thank you very much also.

CORNISH: That's Dr. Angelito Umali, maternal health officer for United Nations Population Fund in the Philippines. We reached him on the island of Bohol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.