Friday, March 7, 2014

Typhoon Haiyan: Looking back and moving forward

REFLECTIONS: Richardson, left, and Berlin

On Nov. 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan battered the Philippines, killing more than 6,000 people and making it the most deadly typhoon in that nation’s history. In the weeks and months following the storm, the MGH Center for Global Health deployed four teams of volunteers with the International Medical Corps (IMC) and Project Hope, which provide humanitarian relief efforts during times of disaster. The 27 staff members from a variety of departments across the hospital treated patients and worked to improve the local health infrastructure and care delivery.

On Feb. 12, the center hosted “Global Disaster Response at Mass General: Reflections on Typhoon Haiyan and the Philippines,” in the O’Keeffe Auditorium. Part seminar, part reflection, part reunion, the event represented the culmination of months of work and served as a forum for MGH volunteers to share their stories with the community.

Hilarie Cranmer, MD, MPH, director of Disaster Response in the Center for Global Health, said that during an emergency situation responders can often find comfort and direction by focusing on their mission. “In disaster response we want to provide a professional response to those who are affected by disasters and emergencies anywhere, specifically outside the walls of Mass General,” Cranmer said. “We know that when a disaster hits, we’ve got to run and help, no matter where it is.” 

Joining Cranmer during the event was Miriam Aschkenasy, MD, MPH, deputy director of the Office of Disaster Response, who recalled her experience as a volunteer with the IMC. “The resilient nature of the population ... I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “We were there within the first week, and we left at week four, and they were already transitioning from relief to recovery. They were rebuilding and it was incredible.”

The event also included a panel of MGH volunteers who worked in country – including Calvin Richardson, MPH, program director of Population Health Management; Carmela Berlin, RPh, of Oncology Pharmacy of MassGeneral/North Shore Center for Outpatient Care; Curtis Audin, RN, of Emergency Services; Roberto Caganda, MD, of Chelsea HealthCare Center; and Allison Caravana-Lilly, LICSW, of the Employee Assistance Program.

“The seminar was a great opportunity to reflect on shared experiences,” says Berlin. “It was interesting to hear the experiences and perspectives of my fellow volunteers, and I think the lessons we learned as a community will serve us well in future emergencies.”

For more information about the MGH Center for Global Health, visit

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