Mercy In Action Midwives Form Disaster Response to Deadly Super Typhoon
by Vicki Penwell

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of an article which appears in Midwifery Today, Issue 109, Spring 2014. View other great articles and columns in the table of contents. To read the rest of this article, order your copy of Midwifery Today, Issue 109.]

“I think all of the midwives are dead!” This is what a distraught husband told his laboring wife the day after super typhoon Haiyan devastated the coast of Leyte Island in the Philippines. So although our own homes and birth center had been badly damaged by the severe flooding on Luzon Island the month before, my daughter-in-law Rose said, “Vic, we have to go help.” I knew it was true, so on very short notice and with no designated funding or much time to prepare, we headed down to ground zero of what weathermen are calling the largest storm to ever make landfall.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that there are currently 230,000 pregnant women in the typhoon-affected areas while 835 women are giving birth every day with very limited access to midwifery or emergency obstetric care. The midwives aren’t all dead, but the ones who survived saw their equipment washed away, their clinics and birth centers smashed into rubble and their own homes destroyed. In addition, many of them lost loved ones and are struggling with deep grief and emotional shock. The midwives who only lost roofs and had minimal other damages were serving birthing women as soon as they could. The area, however, was already deficient in proper maternity care services before the storm hit.

Vicki Penwell, CPM, along with four generations of her family, lives in Olongapo, Philippines, where they have trained midwives and set up birth centers of excellence for the poor since 1991. To date, Mercy In Action has overseen the delivery of more than 13,000 babies, all free of charge to the parents. Donations for their charitable work can be made online by PayPal or credit card at or mailed to PO Box 2777, Paso Robles, CA 93447.

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