Via ReliefWeb, a report from the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster: How the Internet is Helping Prevent the Spread of Disease in Tacloban. Excerpt:
Emergencies are a breeding ground for disease. Aside from the immediate destructive effects of earthquakes, conflict, tsunamis, or in the case of the Philippines, typhoons, local populations are often subject to devastating outbreaks of typhoid, cholera and other infectious diseases brought about by the collapse of infrastructure and utilities and cramped, unsanitary living conditions.
In Tacloban, the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) is providing the Department of Health (DoH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) with internet connectivity precisely to stop this from happening.
"We needed Wi-Fi because every evening we report to the Department of Health from hospitals across the Municipality," says Michel Tomaszek, Logistician with WHO. "We have many people in the field who communicate with us via SMS which gives us information about the outbreak of diseases such as malaria or dengue fever. We transfer data to Manila who then send us technical advice."
According to Boyd Roderick Cerro, Epidemiology Nurse for the DoH in Tacloban, Leyte province has already seen outbreaks of diarrhoea, measles and hepatitis A. Fast communication of information is essential for effective response.
"Before we had access to the internet we were crippled," says Boyd. "It is important so we can respond immediately to local needs. We need to receive health reports of disease in hospitals, municipalities and provinces."
Before the ETC hooked them up to the internet, WHO and the DoH would "send a car everywhere" to gather information. An arduous process "which took a long time," says Michel.
The ETC installed an Omni-Directional Access Point which receives internet connectivity via a microwave link from the ETC office in downtown Tacloban.
"The internet makes our work much easier and much more efficient," says Boyd who can now keep tabs on "the number of health incidents so we can detect epidemics." If a spike is detected, teams are sent out to collect samples which are then "sent to the lab for cultures, isolation and tests." Once confirmed, response teams are sent to treat patients and contain an outbreak.