Supporting women's health in typhoon ravaged areas

Health Workers of the Marasbaras Women’s Health Clinic in Tacloban. Photo: WHO/F. Guerrero

Over six hundred health facilities were destroyed because of typhoon Yolanda. Now, eight months after the devastation, the World Health Organization, the Philippine Department of Health, and other local and international health partners are relentlessly working to rehabilitate these facilities.

The Marasbaras Women’s Health Clinic is the only clinic of its kind in the province of Leyte. Prior to the typhoon the clinic provided health services to registered sex workers, clients of sex workers, and men who have sex with men. After typhoon Yolanda struck, its facilities were severely damaged paralyzing services for nearly four months and although the city health office continued to provide services of the women’s clinic after the typhoon, many of its regular clients were difficult to locate.

For women like Alona Sorono, access to women’s health services is essential given the nature of her work, “I used to go to the women’s health clinic three times a week for routine testing but after Yolanda I couldn’t. I started work in January and this made me nervous because the clinic in Marasbaras was closed and I couldn’t find out if I was in good health” she said.

Myla Garcia, head nurse of the clinic, explained the challenges she faced following the storm, “I had some clients who died, some I could not locate anymore because they were displaced, while others only came back when we reopened the clinic in Marasbaras.” Many of the clients of the clinic come from the nine registered entertainment establishments in the city making the services crucial to providing basic reproductive health services.

"The WHO was a great help to us because they gave us all that we need. They rehabilitated our building and they're giving us all the equipment and supplies we had lost in the typhoon" exclaimed Nilda Cantay, medical technologist of the clinic. The WHO was able to complete the rehabilitation of the actual structure of the Marasbaras women’s health clinic by March of 2014 and was able to restore full functionality in April 2014 by providing equipment such as microscopes, computers, and refrigerators which were mostly stolen shortly after the typhoon.

“All these months (after typhoon Yolanda) we either stopped working or continued to work without knowing whether we were healthy or not. Now it’s good because we are able to access contraceptives, know whether we have a sickness, and if we do, treat it right away. It’s really much better for us now.” said Virgie Ganom. Services such as STI/HIV testing and STI treatment, one on one health education and counselling, family planning services, as well as STI/HIV/AIDS seminars have been resumed giving communities access to essential sexual and reproductive health care services.

A medical technician screens smear tests in Marasbaras Women’s health clinic. Photo: WHO/F. Guerrero