Feb 24, 2011

Operation Sulu Rescue: Perceptions of an Intern

For five weeks, all has been still. Though kept occupied by our tasks researching current social, economic, medical, and natural developments in the Philippines and in the broader Southeast-Asian sphere, the interns in the Washington, D.C. office have not been laboring at a frantic pace. Until now.

Though floodwaters have since receded following torrents of rain earlier this month, the southern-most Filipino provincial island chain of Sulu has an extremely long road to full recovery. The concern of the locals is no longer drowning, but that of an unseen rising tide nonetheless. Though precautions may be made, there is no guarantee against contraction. Without access to adequate sanitation, mosquito netting and repellant, and water-purification equipment, mosquito-borne endemics such as malaria and dengue fever as well as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever, may take root and decimate the indigenous population.

Unique to each illness is an underlying culprit, spread by means independent of their human hosts. Female mosquitoes deposit eggs into pools of non-moving water, which then hatch into larvae, remain dormant as pupae, and within a time span of about one week hatch and emerge as adult mosquitoes. At some point a parasitic protist of the genus Plasmodium infects the adult mosquito, and may then be transmitted to a human, causing malaria. The mosquito may also insert its proboscis into a person who has a serotype of the Dengue fever virus, and then transmit the virus to other people. Cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever are all caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, of the genus Shigella, or Salmonella enterica, respectively, spread by the consumption of contaminated water, food, or direct contraction via bodily fluids. Such maladies are increasingly difficult to avoid after flooding because proper sanitation and hygiene practices literally cannot be enacted—the rising waters had carried with them human and animal waste and rubbish, polluting everything in their path. Wells were filled with sewage or runoff from what was once on the ground, and small tributaries were simmering pools of floating refuse. And as the floodwaters evaporated or were drained, left behind were literally millions of areas of stagnant water, from old tires to puddles—the breeding ground for female mosquitoes.

Imperative to the effort of disease-prevention is immediate action by the local people to stifle the spread before it becomes an epidemic. But with their clean water infrastructure contaminated, the only sources of fuel to burn and boil water wet, and homes destroyed, we at Asia America Initiative sought to do as much as we could in order to assist our Filipino brethren before diseases carved their niche and began to take their toll on the hapless men, women, and children of Sulu. AmeriCares of Stamford, Connecticut was contacted with regards to an endeavor entitled ‘Operation Sulu Rescue’, an emergency intervention of hygiene kits (soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo, and towels), pails, dry blankets, plastic sheets for temporary shelters, and water purification tablets to not only thwart the spread of disease, but also to bring a sense of normality to those who lost everything.

Our contact in the Philippines, Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, had sent us the following statistics:

Total Families Affected: 4,816 (approximately 24,247)

Number of Deaths: 6

Number of Injured: 147

Destroyed Homes: 3

Partially-Damaged Homes: 1,454

At first AAI planned to ship the roughly five pallets of emergency supplies by air, but the 9,000-mile trip would be prohibitively expensive with AAI’s pitiful operating budget. Thus, it was decided that said supplies would be purchased in the Philippines with a donation from AmeriCares, supplemented with an input of capital from an amount that was set-aside for just such an emergency from a 2010 grant, courtesy of the government of Norway. The medical and sanitation supplies would then be transported by boat and by land caravan to their ultimate destinations, the counties of Jolo and Patikul.

As of 15:00 EST, we have sent a request but are awaiting an approval of our funding request from AmeriCares.

Thank you to all of those who have contributed and who are considering donating to the ongoing work of Asia America Initiative.

No comments: