By Alex Bridges
WINCHESTER - A local disaster-relief group has answered the Philippines' call for help after Typhoon Haiyan struck the country last week.
Project HOPE officials announced Thursday efforts are underway to ship more than $1 million worth of medicine and medical supplies to the country. The 5-ton shipment of 25 pallets of donated medicine and supplies include antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, gloves and surgical masks, and generators.
The Philippines government estimates the number of victims killed by the typhoon at 4,460, the United Nations told the Associated Press on Thursday, though the destructive storm left hundreds of thousands more sick, injured and without medical provisions. The storm hit the coastal provinces of Leyte and Samar on Nov. 8, then moved west, leaving a wake of devastation across nine regions.
At a press conference held at the organization's distribution center in Winchester, President and Chief Executive Officer John P. Howe III spoke about the agency's response to the disaster. The first phase of that effort involves sending the supplies to the country for distribution.
Project HOPE center staff worked on packaging the supplies and preparing boxes for shipping. Agency representatives say they expect the supplies to reach the Philippines this weekend or Monday for immediate distribution.
Patricia Bacuros serves as Project HOPE's director of gifts-in-kind development and works with companies that provide medical supplies and medicine in times of disasters. Chuck Clark, distribution manager, oversees operations for the center. Scott Crawford, director of humanitarian assistance, will go to the Philippines to ensure that the supplies go to the people in need.
Howe said at least 20,000 people remain missing. The typhoon also rendered more than 200,000 pregnant women without necessary medical care, he noted Thursday.
"In the midst of all that, Project HOPE, with its 55-year history of making a difference in health, education and humanitarian aid, was tapped, was asked to respond," Howe said. "This is a classic example of Project HOPE at its best, making a difference in the lives of those in need by taking medicines and medical supplies to those around the world."
Almost eight years ago, Project HOPE workers rallied at the same distribution center to put together relief for victims of the tsunami that struck Indonesia, Howe said. Project HOPE also sent medical professionals to that area to volunteer their services for the sick and injured. Project HOPE has not yet determined whether it plans to do the same for the Philippines.
"The tsunami was a good example of Project HOPE reaching out in two ways: One was medicines and the other was medical volunteers and, as we speak, we have medicines soon to be on their way to the Philippines, and we are in discussion with the U.S. Navy to provide the support based on the ships that may be designated by the Navy," Howe said.
The organization's director for the Philippines, also a physician linked to the Filipino medical community, will make the initial site visit and work with the Ministry of Health as well as the country's military, Crawford said.
Coordination remains key and the organization wants to make sure it doesn't duplicate efforts underway by other relief agencies, Crawford added.
Bacuros added, "A lot of our trusted donors ... look for specific assessments so they wait for Project Hope to go out, do what we need to do, make our assessment and then come back with specific needs for the disaster."
The amount of supplies set to go to the Philippines is about the standard for the organization's initial response to a disaster, Crawford said.
"Once we get on the ground, we do an assessment of the hospitals, we get some feedback from the docs that are on site, work with the Ministry of Health for the coordination to make sure that what we do get can be distributed and used, and we're not duplicating efforts of some of the other groups on the ground," Crawford explained.
The organization then uses the assessment to determine the needs of the people at the disaster area and coordinates with the suppliers, Crawford said.
Howe noted, "To put it another way, this is the first wave, figuratively, of response and we will have additional responses based upon Scott's assessment when he lands in the Philippines."
The warehouse contains supplies ready for shipping to 30 countries. The organization's work requires coordination and teamwork with the donating companies, staff and the people it has on the ground at the disaster sites, Howe said.
"How does this happen, this tremendous, worldwide effort?" Howe said. "For us to be successful, we need to be able to reach out to our outstanding partners."
The organization must not only receive the supplies but also ensure their integrity, Howe pointed out. The agency also sends representatives to the intended destination to make sure the supplies reach the relief workers and patients.
Project HOPE, or Health Opportunities for People Everywhere, was founded in 1958 and is headquartered in the Clarke County community of Millwood. The organization is identifiable by the SS Hope -- the world's first peacetime hospital ship -- and also provides medical training and health education, in addition to its humanitarian assistance efforts.
The organization has partnered with the U.S. Navy and Air Force since 2005 on annual missions. Medical volunteers joined the Pacific Partnership 2012 mission on board the U.S.N.S. Mercy hospital ship to provide health care and education to communities in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.
Project HOPE also is taking donations through its website online. Anyone wishing to make a donation may do so at www.projecthope.org.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com