Red Cross emergency field hospital put to new use after measles outbreak in the Philippines

August 13, 2019

Field hospital By Angela Hill

At the height of the measles outbreak in the Philippines during early 2019, the Philippine Red Cross sent medical volunteers and six medical tents across the region, including in Manila.
“The measles outbreak caused the hospitals to be overloaded,” said Mark Abrigo, head of Health Services for the Philippine Red Cross.
The tents were set up next to hospital emergency departments, creating the ability to treat more children with measles. The Red Cross provided a total of 130 beds and operated at 90 per cent capacity around the clock. Doctor, nurse and other volunteers worked in eight-hour shifts all day and night.
The Philippine Red Cross has provided medical support to the Philippine health system since 2007. Medical tents were fully utilized after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, when the Canadian Red Cross donated its emergency field hospital, a tented field hospital used to respond disasters around the world.
“We were able to establish a cooperation where the Philippine Red Cross would be able to receive support logistically, financially, and technically from Canadian Red Cross,” Mark said. They also kept 90 per cent of the components of the field hospital.
This builds local capacity and provides a more culturally appropriate, localized, cost-effective and rapid health response within the Philippines.
The medical tents have been used in small-scale emergencies and trainings since 2013, and the measles response allowed the Philippine Red Cross to advance its knowledge to support the national health system.
“We have the capacity and technical know-how of which Canadian Red Cross provided us through the emergency field hospital and we evolved into a National Society which can offer this kind of intervention,” he said.
“This Measles Care Unit, we would like to present this to other national societies because this is an innovation.”
With the outbreak under control, the Red Cross and Ministry of Health in Philippines, has turned to preventing future measles epidemics, through national vaccination and awareness campaigns.
“Canadian Red Cross supported us with epidemiologic capability, where you supported us hiring an epidemiologist,” Mark said.
“[An epidemiologist] can give advice on where to go because as Red Cross we cannot spread ourselves to thin, because our resources are very limited, so we need to target communities that would be very vulnerable.”
For Philippine Red Cross Secretary General Elizabeth Zavalla, the partnership has been positive and expected to go a long way in helping humanity.
Canadian expertise can serve as a model in continuously improving its capacity in emergency field hospital setting, as well as mother-and-child-centered programs, she said.
“I think the programs of the Canadian Red Cross are really relevant because these are the priorities of the Philippine Red Cross especially for the year 2019. We will embark on health programs [alongside] the usual services we deliver; we will really add more health programs,” Elizabeth said.
This operation and the emergency field hospital was made possible thanks to the Government of Canada.