Dispatch from the Philippines: “If it was easy, someone else would have done it”

Gwen Eamer, a delegate with the Canadian Red Cross, is currently deployed to Ormoc, Philippines. You can support Red Cross efforts in the Philippines by donating to the Typhoon Haiyan Fund

When we arrived in Ormoc, on the hard-hit island of Leyte, more than two weeks ago, no one quite knew what to expect. We knew that the Red Cross’ emergency response unit (ERU) was being deployed to support the Ormoc District Hospital, which had been badly damaged by Typhoon Haiyan, and that we would have some long days ahead of us.

We arrived by boat to a seaside town, where, even from the dock, the typhoon’s power was evident. Officials here estimate that 97% of the district’s roofs were damaged or destroyed by the storm. Homes, businesses and critical infrastructure like hospitals and schools were all damaged. Shops were shuttered, roads were blocked, streets were quiet. This was a town in shock.

The region’s health needs were pressing. The district hospital, the only public facility serving 190,000 people in Ormoc and surrounding communities,  was hit head-on by Haiyan, tearing off the roof, shattering windows, and destroying equipment.

When we arrived, the hospital could treat only 20 or 30 patients per day, and there was no surgery available for the many labouring women in case they had complications delivering their babies. Patients lined the benches of the lobby and halls, as the exhausted staff – who were themselves affected by the storm – worked around the clock, without electricity, to provide medical care.

ERU team members got to work to set up the field hospital when they first arrived in Ormoc

ERU team members quickly got to work to set up the field hospital when they first arrived in Ormoc a few weeks ago.

The ERU team quickly got to work building our tented field hospital, and 48 hours after we unpacked our first box, we began accepting patients. Today, more than two weeks later, we are still operating at 100% capacity every day. We’ve delivered more than 150 babies, conducted more than 50 surgeries, and seen hundreds of pediatric and adult patients come through our wards.

Patients quickly filled the hospital wards in Ormoc.

Patients quickly filled the wards at the Red Cross field hospital in Ormoc.

Much has changed in the weeks since we arrived. The streets are lively as shops reopen, children begin returning to still-damaged schools, and infrastructure is being repaired. The signs of early recovery are everywhere, but for the many families who lost their homes or livelihoods, the emergency continues and the hard work will continue for many months to come.

A young boy being treated at the Red Cross field hospital in Ormoc playing with a balloon.

A young boy being treated at the Red Cross field hospital in Ormoc playing with a balloon.

As the first group of ERU personnel begins planning to hand over to our replacements, we look back on what we’ve accomplished here, and the hard work it took. But as our second-in-command likes to tell us, “if it was easy, someone else would have done it.”

Delegate Profile: Tamara Bournival, medical logistician

Tamara, pictured on the left, with other ERU delegates in the Philippines

Tamara, pictured on the left, with other ERU delegates in the Philippines

Tamara Bournival is among the delegates currently deployed in the Philippines to support the Canadian Red Cross Emergency Response Unit (ERU) field hospital.

Tamara is the perfect person to have in charge of medical logistics on this mission to the Philippines – she literally wrote the book on it. After completing her Red Cross training, she developed the guidelines for medical logistics for the field hospital. This sets out how to organize the inventory of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, and to monitor their use and be able to predict the field hospital’s needs a full month in advance.

The role of the medical logistician is to make sure the clinical team has what it needs, when it needs it. “Because if the medical team can’t find what they need when they need it, it’s like they didn’t have it,” she said. This makes Tamara a crucial piece of the puzzle, allowing the rest of the team to provide critical life-saving care.

Tamara started her career as a military pharmacist with the Canadian Forces. She was the first pharmacist on the Forces’ Disaster Assistance Response Team. After leaving her military career and working as a community pharmacist for several years, Tamara dropped everything and, with her husband and two young children, travelled the world for a year. While completing her around-the-world trip, she often stopped in on pharmacies in far-flung locations to see how her profession was practiced elsewhere.

“When I returned to Canada, I felt like I had to give back to the communities I had visited,” she said. “When I saw the opportunity to join the Red Cross’ field hospital team, I knew it was the right fit for me.”

November is CPR Month: New technologies help bystanders save lives

Technology is changing all around us, sometimes for the better, and sometimes, it seems, just to vex us. But new technologies and new uses for everyday electronics are giving family members, friends and strangers the ability to provide life-saving first aid and CPR anywhere, any time.

A program in Sweden called SMSLifesaver uses mobile networks to recruit neighbours and strangers to perform CPR, to help provide care in those critical minutes before a paramedic arrives. The program solicits  members of the public who are trained in CPR and when a Stockholm resident calls emergency services to help a heart attack victim, the system sends a text message to all volunteers within 500 metres of the person in need. This allows a trained volunteer to know that their help is needed and—with the odds of surviving a heart attack dropping 10% for every minute it takes for first responders to arrive— their help can go a long way.

photo CPR first aid appThe Red Cross is leading the way in Canada by launching a free first aid app. The app, available for Apple and Android mobile devices, helps users keep their skills up to date, and its emergency mode gives you step-by-step instructions to help you respond to a life-threatening emergency.

Programs like SMSLifesaver and the Red Cross app are great supplements to first aid training, and with CPR courses taking as little as an afternoon, there’s never been a better time to get ready to save a life.

Red Cross puts life-saving help in your pocket

The Canadian Red Cross today took a giant leap into the mobile world, launching its first-ever mobile app. The app is ground-breaking for us, but more importantly, it can save your life. The official Canadian Red Cross First Aid App, a free download for Apple and Android devices, lets you brush up on your first aid skills and get safety tips for common disasters, and provides on-the-spot advice to guide you through a medical emergency.

One small stepMany Canadians lack the confidence to provide life-saving basic first aid. While nearly 7 in 10 Canadians say they would recognize the signs of a life-threatening emergency, like choking or a heart attack, fewer than half are confident they have the skills to help.

With nearly 40% of Canadians saying they’ve been in an emergency where they’ve had to provide first aid, this app can save lives by giving bystanders the confidence and advice they need to save a life. The app’s videos will guide you through a variety of emergencies, from heart attacks to burns to deadly bleeding. Fully integrated with 911, it will prompt you to call for medical help in an emergency. The videos and advice are fully contained within the app – making it work online or off – so emergency advice is always in your pocket.

The first aid app will never replace your first aid training, but can give you the confidence that you’re doing the right thing in a life-threatening situation, and help you prepare for emergencies and sharpen your skills. If you’re among the 8 in 10 Canadians who haven’t taken a first aid course in the last three years, download the app and sign up for a course. The majority of Canadians who’ve used their first aid skills have helped a family member. A basic CPR course can be as short as an afternoon, and could be the most important thing you do for a loved one this year.

Here’s an example of the kind of help the app will give you in an emergency:

Photo of the Day: Pint-sized supporters make a super-sized contribution


Whether disaster strikes at home or abroad, Canadians of all stripes (and sizes) are quick to help. When floods hit Calgary in June this year, the kids at Children’s Choice, a non-profit child care society, were no different. After experiencing the physical and emotional impact of the floods in their hometown, they wanted a chance to help others who’d been affected. The kids decided to hold a bake sale to raise money, but their plan quickly grew into a major event when nearby businesses chipped in with flowers, toys and food for 100 people.

Before the event was over, the group of 14-month- to five-year olds, with the help of their teachers, had raised nearly $1,000 for the Canadian Red Cross’ flood relief efforts. “The children of my classroom learned so much about giving and caring through this event, and the understanding of the power of a small group and the difference they can make,”  said Children’s Choice’s Tracy Abildgaard. These lessons will last the kids a lifetime, and their efforts are helping nearby families recover today.

Learn more about how the Red Cross is helping communities affected by the flooding.

Help us help you be safe around water. Enter to win lifejackets!

National lifejacket day, 2012With the May long-weekend fast approaching, the Red Cross and Mustang Survival have a special contest to help you get ready for another fun season of water activities.

We know many of you will be looking forward to boating on the long weekend, but don’t forget to wear your life jacket! The sad reality is that too often when people have boating accidents, their lifejacket couldn’t help them because they didn’t have it on. Don’t forget to #WearIt.

Enter online to win one of 10 Mustang lifejacket family packs, and share with your family and friends the importance of wearing a lifejacket every time you’re on the water.

World Health Day – Providing care where it’s most needed

Photo credit: Ibrahim Mall/SARC

Photo credit: Ibrahim Mall/SARC

Many people around the world today are marking World Health Day. World Health Day was celebrated on Sunday, April 7 to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization, the UN’s health agency. Health services are one of the core programs offered by Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world. In this photo, staff and volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) provide emergency care to people in the city of Homs. The SARC team in Homs have responded as best they can to the deteriorating humanitarian situation by mobilizing first aid teams in the city and in the surrounding countryside. The teams provide first aid on the spot, evacuate the wounded and transport them for medical care.


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