When Tropical Typhoon Soudelor hit the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI) in August 2015, the island of Saipan was at the centre of the storm. The typhoon was the strongest in the world that season – about 40 people were injured, around 500 took refuge in shelters and recovery costs were expected to reach at least US$20 million.
To safeguard health, Pacific Community (SPC) communicable disease epidemiologist, Dr Paul White, travelled to Saipan to work with the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation (CHCC) and partners from the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ensuring public health security is vital in emergency situations, as water supplies can become contaminated and diseases spread quickly. “In post-disaster situations, SPC is able to provide specialised support and services to Pacific Community members based on their specific needs,” said Dr Colin Tukuitonga, SPC Director-General.
SPC’s Public Health Division had provided similar post-disaster support to Vanuatu following Tropical Cyclone Pam earlier in 2015 and Dr White was part of that team. In Saipan, he began work immediately to develop a rapid needs assessment tool, train a team of local volunteers and launch the field survey.
“This health needs assessment is an essential resource to inform the priorities of our public health action moving forward for a healthy recovery from Soudelor,” said Margarita Aldan, Director of Public Health Services at the CHCC.
To conduct the voluntary survey, the assessment team visited 110 households throughout Saipan. They learnt about the difficulties people were facing in the wake of the cyclone and brought back a clear picture of health needs.
The survey report highlighted some key findings, including ensuring adequate chronic disease management and care. Dr White noted that “pre-existing chronic disease overtook acute disease and injury as the main health concerns identified, with hypertension and diabetes the main causes.”
The report also noted the importance of prioritising mental and emotional health, a post-typhoon health need that should not be overlooked, Dr White said.
The report emphasised the need for surveillance, risk communication and education to address food and water-born diarrhoeal disease and increase awareness of hygiene and non-scratching behaviour to avoid rashes.
It identified an association between self-reported diarrhoea and not having sufficient water in the house to flush the toilet post-typhoon. A rash without fever was the most commonly reported acute health symptom, but there was a weak association between rash and having no running water in the house, the report said.
Dr White praised the volunteer survey team, saying their diligence, motivation and enthusiasm was essential for meeting the challenging time lines and data collection targets required.
- Tropical Typhoon Soudelor hit in August 2015, injuring 40 people, displacing 500 and causing at least $US$20m in damage
- SPC sent a senior communicable disease epidemiologist to assist with rapid needs healthcare assessments
- Local volunteers worked with Dr White to survey the community’s needs