On November 1, 2013, a low pressure area was spotted over the Caroline Islands in Kiribati. It moved westward and intensified into a tropical depression on November 3. It became a tropical storm and earned the international name “Haiyan” on November 4 and eventually escalated into a typhoon category on November 5. With an expanding and deepening obscuring of clouds and clear eye visible on satellite, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) upgraded Haiyan to a super typhoon which had maximum sustained winds of 150 km/h and gustiness of up to 185 km/h on November 6, 2013. It became the 24th typhoon to enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) and was locally named “Yolanda.”

On November 8, Yolanda hit the Philippines with winds of 195 mph, and has been described as the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded history. It made six landfalls: 1) Guiuan, Eastern Samar at 4:40 am of November 8; 2) Tolosa, Leyte at 7 am; 3) Daang Bantayan, Cebu at 10 am; 4) Bantayan Island, Cebu at 10:40 am; 5) Concepcion, Iloilo at 12 noon; and 6) Busuanga, Palawan around 8 pm. Yolanda was accompanied by monstrous winds that uprooted trees and tore roofs off buildings, while storm surges as high as 10-20 feet smashed into coastal communities.

At around 7 am that day, the whole world lost contact with the affected areas because power and communication lines were cut off, and even the satellites could not locate Leyte and Samar from the map. It was only at around 8 pm of the following day that the world began to see in media the grim images of destruction and death caused by Yolanda. Media from around the globe generated a deluge of news, feature and commentaries on the rescue, recovery, relief and rehabilitation efforts of government, the private sector, and international humanitarian assistance. Many reports were not without criticisms and even controversies ranging from the slow start of government operations since the first responders in local government units (LGUs) were victims themselves, to politicking the disaster by presidential wannabes since the 2016 national election is just a few storms away.

Health issues surfaced loudly in the first two weeks of the typhoon's aftermath because the immediate basic needs of the survivors were food, water, temporary shelter and medicines. The DOH is among the government frontliners in disaster and health emergency management. 

On November 11, President Benigno S. Aquino III declared a “State of National Calamity” to hasten government efforts as well as utilize appropriate funds to provide basic services. The DOH immediately sent several cargoes of medicines, supplies and equipment to Tacloban that was almost entirely flattened by the storm surge. The medical and health needs of other affected areas were taken care of by their respective regional health offices and augmented by the central office, other regional offices not affected by the typhoon, and DOH hospitals. Health Secretary Enrique T. Ona met with World Health Organization (WHO) officials and other international  medical missions to identify immediate needs, consolidate relief efforts and accelerate the delivery of the needed supplies. Several medical teams, both domestic and international, were deployed to provide emergency and basic medical and surgical services to affected areas.

Tetanus, water-borne diseases, respiratory illnesses, childhood diseases and vector-borne diseases like leptospirosis, dengue and even rabies were the public health threats closely being watched by the DOH to avert outbreaks and epidemics. The DOH also convened a meeting with forensic experts to establish a quick system of management of dead bodies. Ona allayed growing fears of the public and reiterated that dead bodies would not cause outbreaks but certain precautions should be observed by body handlers to prevent the spread of any disease. He also urged local authorities for the proper retrieval and identification of dead bodies as well as providing decent burial.

On November 14, Ona made a directive implenting a price freeze on 200 essential medicines to ensure their availability to typhoon affected families.  On November 18, President Aquino issued a memorandum directing the DOH to temporarily assume direct supervision and control over health and sanitation operations of LGUs if deemed necessary, based on an assessment of the needs and in consultation with the LGUs. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) teams made the rounds to ascertain the potability of drinking water, supervise the solid waste management and excreta disposal in communities as well as in evacuation sites.

Meanwhile, the DOH-National Capital Region established a field clinic at the Villamor Airbase for the health and medical assessment and treatment of survivors who chose to stay in Metro Manila. A separate clinic especially for pregnant and nursing mothers was also established including a temporary milk bank to cater for the needs of infant as well as to collect human milk for those who want to donate their excess breastmilk. The DOH constantly reminded well-meaning individuals and groups to refrain from giving breastmilk substitutes and milk products. In emergency situations, poor water and sanitation situations contribute to a heightened risk of disease among children. Besides, milk donations go against the provisions of the Milk Code.

On November 22, the WHO in partnership with the DOH launched a vaccination campaign to prevent outbreaks of measles and polio among survivors.Children under five years old are vaccinated against polio and measles and given Vitamin A drops to boost their immune system. The WHO also arranged for the delivery of vaccines using gas-powered and generator-powered fridges, freezers, vaccine-cases, cold boxes and ice packs for affected areas that have lost power. This “cold chain” is necessary to keep the vaccines from being spoiled. USAID has sent six solar-driven refrigerators to Tacloban.

On November 24, even for a brief moment, many survivors set aside their misery as they watched and cheered the live broadcast of the victory of Manny Pacquiao over American-Mexican Brandon Rios in the World Boxing Organization (WBO) International welterweight title clash. This was an exciting bout for Pacquiao after losing his last two fights. Herminio Coloma, Aquino's spokesman, said, "Just like Manny, we will triumph over our current problems by working together... In the face of a tough fight, he has displayed the strength and the character of the Filipino."

As of November 25, the DOH Health Emergency Alert Reporting System noted  a total of 75 DOH teams, 60 foreign teams and 23 local health teams have been deployed in Typhoon Yolanda-affected areas. A total of 2,146,341 families or 9,923,378 persons were affected in 11,880 barangays, in 44 provinces in 9 regions.

At this point, the DOH and other government agencies were gradually shifting efforts toward rehabilitation and rebuilding. Hopefully, this tragedy will result to efficient disaster management, effective climate-influencing reforms, and socially responsible handling of media coverages as well as non-partisan political actions in the context of disasters and their aftermath.