WHO staff on their role in the Yolanda response: Amanda Shane on making sure every child gets life-saving vaccines

Amanda Shane with provincial and municipal health staff at Julita Rural Health Unit

My name is Amanda Shane and I am a Canadian epidemiologist based at the Public Health Agency of Canada in Ottawa. I joined the international effort to help the communities affected by the Typhoon Yolanda in February this year.

In November 2013, typhoon Yolanda travelled west across 41 provinces in the Philippines damaging health facilities and scattering health workers. The loss of electricity made it difficult for health facilities to maintain vaccine supplies at the right temperatures, so there was a period after the typhoon when children could not get the life-saving vaccines they needed.

My job was to help determine the impact of the typhoon Yolanda on the vaccination program across the Eastern Visayas. From February to April, 2014, I visited 39 facilities in the provinces of Leyte, Western Samar and Eastern Samar. I spoke to doctors, nurses and midwives about how they were managing to vaccinate children in the face of so many challenges.

In the picture you can see me with the provincial and municipal health staff at Julita Rural Health Unit. Their Rural Health Unit was completely destroyed and they have been operating out of the tent in the picture for the past 5 months. Despite these challenges, they managed to re-start their vaccination program only 6 weeks after Typhoon Yolanda hit the region. Their experiences were similar to those reported by other health workers. While most facilities had to stop vaccinating children immediately after the typhoon, all had resumed their immunization activities by the time I visited them. This is a huge achievement. Most had managed to get the vaccination program back up and running within 8 weeks of the typhoon.

Today some facilities continue to report challenges including unreliable power sources (making it difficult to keep their vaccines at safe temperatures); stock-outs of certain vaccines; and the loss or damage of immunization records. The work I have been doing will help the WHO make recommendations on how to overcome these problems, to move forward and strengthen the routine immunization program in the typhoon affected areas. It was really satisfying to be part of something that matters so much for the health of children in the region.