TACLOBAN CITY, the Philippines (Wall Street Journal) – Bethany Hospital in downtown Tacloban, like many other structures in a city largely destroyed by typhoon Haiyan, is almost completely deserted. Patients there before the storm have been evacuated and corridors now smell of mold, rotting food and bedpans left unattended since Haiyan roared through on Nov. 8.
Amid the wreckage, however, doctors worked hard Sunday to bring new life – and a glimmer of hope – to this community, delivering a healthy baby boy on a plastic bench at the hospital’s entrance.
When Evangeline Marteja arrived at Bethany Hospital she was already well into the final stage of labor. A nurse rushed to her aid but she never got beyond the entranceway, and the bench became her bed.
The birth appeared to go smoothly, but Ms. Marteja started to lose blood quickly from hemorrhaging in her stomach and severe tearing of her vagina caused by the delivery.
The wound needed to be sewn up quickly, said Marife Garfin, the chief nurse at Bethany, a large missionary hospital in typhoon-ravaged Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province. Once again, hospital staff came to Ms. Marteja’s rescue, and less than two hours after her delivery she was able to cradle her son.
“I wanted to have two kids,” said Ms. Marteja, 32, who already has a three-year-old daughter with her husband, Celso. “I want to give an education to my son.”
But in a city where much has been destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, Ms. Marteja holds many worries for the future. Electricity and functional plumbing have not been restored in Tacloban more than a week after the typhoon hit.
Excavators are still clearing wreckage and the carcasses buried among it. Rebuilding efforts, humanitarian workers say, will take months, and residents worry that it will be hard to meet daily needs, with many stores still shuttered and basic goods in short supply. Questions about where to find employment and housing are also starting to emerge as recovery begins and people start thinking of life ahead.
Those worries are shared by many, but the people leading relief efforts and providing life-saving support to the thousands of needy and injured say they have to focus on the work that needs to be done and stay calm.
“You should look relaxed; otherwise the patient will also panic,” said Ms. Garfin. “It’s part of being in the medical profession.”
Bethany Hospital has suffered its share of damage. The ground floor of the two-story structure was completely submerged by a storm surge stirred up by the typhoon, whose gale-force winds ripped the roofs off the building. Most of the medical equipment was destroyed by rain or flood waters.
When fully operational, the hospital has beds for 150 people and employs more than 100 doctors. But on Sunday only five doctors and three nurses were on hand to treat patients. Since the typhoon hit, many families have left Tacloban to stay with relatives in other cities or find shelter elsewhere, while those who have remained have had to focus on caring for their own families and putting their lives back together.
The absence of medical staff and medicines have hampered relief efforts, and posed new threats to mothers and babies in a predominantly Catholic country where the lack of family planning has led to one of the world’s highest birth rates.
The United Nations Population Fund, or UNFPA, said in a statement released Monday that 235,000 pregnant women and their newborns are at high risk of infections, injury or death because of a lack of medical services and antibiotics.
“Babies continue to be born even in emergencies like this one, and women have to give birth without access to even the most basic essentials for safe delivery,” said Genevieve Ah-sue, acting UNFPA Representative in the Philippines.
Read the full story by Mitsuru Obe and Shibani Mahtani in the Wall Street Journal's Southeast Asia Real Time Blog.