Doctors specially trained in Boston are on their way to the Philippines, one week after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the country, affecting more than 11 million people.
Dr. Selwyn Mahon has spent the last three months studying emergency deployment as a disaster medicine fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Now he’s putting what he learned into practice.
"One of the most essential parts of disaster response is personal preparedness, so if you are not prepared, you are going to become part of the problem," he said.
As part of his preparations,
Mahon spent Wednesday morning at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Travel Clinic getting shots.
Mahon is vaccinated for typhoid and hepatitis A, and he’s prescribed anti-malaria medication, antibiotics and a drug that prevents HIV infection in the case that he comes in contact with blood.
This isn’t the first time Mahon is heading to a natural disaster. After the earthquake in Haiti nearly four years ago, he and a team of doctors from the Virgin Islands set up a mini intensive care unit outside of Port-au-Prince.
"We had to be very flexible. For a day or two I even functioned as a pharmacist, because there wasn’t a pharmacy person and someone came by and deposited a whole bunch of drugs and I had to categorize them. Some of them were from different countries so we had to try to look up the chemical names for those so we could figure out what those were."
Despite the confusion, Mahon said his life was better for having spent that week in Haiti.
"I think that was one of the things that crystalized for me that this is the field that I wanted to be involved in," he said.
Just hours before traveling to the Philippines, Mahon is vaccinated and heads back to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for a conference call with disaster medicine program director Gregory Ciottone, who instructed them to not bring any suitcases and keep all their equipment in a backpack or military duffel bag.
Mahon said he and the three other fellows must bring enough medical supplies to last the first few days, before they get reinforcements delivered from a partner organization already in the Philippines. Luckily, there’s a checklist for Mahon to follow, and Ciottone stressed some of the most important items: a Camelback that carries multiple bottles of water, chlorine tablets or a microfilter, crank lamps or a battery powered head lamp.
Ciottone gave the contact info of a man who works at the Tactical Operations Center of the Philippines Army. He said if there is an emergency, this is the man to call. He also told the doctors to stick together.
Mahon said that even with all of this preparation, he doesn’t know what to expect when he lands in the Philippines.
"Each disaster is unique," he said. "There are a lot of people that have died and are injured that need help. That I can expect. Anything else, when I get on the ground, I’ll cope and deal with that.
And hopefully, he’ll help ease the suffering.