Faculty member deploys to Phillipines to provide disaster relief after Typhoon Haiyan

Rashad Chin leads first medical unit sent by Canadian Medical Assistance Teams

Janet Harvey - 20 November 2013

Rashad Chin with a young patient in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake

On November 8, Typhoon Haiyan - the largest storm to ever hit land - struck the Phillipines. Within ten days, Rashad Chin was on a plane headed there to lead a team providing medical care and disaster assistance. The clinical faculty member in the Department of Emergency Medicine and recent graduate of the Faculty's emergency medicine resident program is part of the first medical unit from Canadian Medical Assistance Teams (CMAT) deployed to the disaster zone. Chin is also an attending emergency physician at the University of Alberta Hospital.

Chin departed Edmonton in the early hours Monday, November 18 to join the rest of his team in Vancouver, arriving in Cebu City, Phillipines early Wednesday morning. A four-member assessment team from CMAT is already in the Phillipines co-ordinating with the UN, Red Cross and other aid organizations to determine the region's most pressing needs. To date, almost 1,800 people are confirmed dead and 10,000 are missing. Many thousands have been injured.

As response coordinator for CMAT, Chin spent the last few days before mobilization assessing volunteer requests and determining the makeup of the teams. "There are over 1,000 people on our email list and many more expressing interest on social media in going to help," said Chin. "I have to sort through all those requests to determine their qualifications, what specialties are needed the most, and what supplies are needed the most."

And that is only the beginning of Chin's duties. Once he arrives in the Phillipines he will be part of the team providing medical care to those who need it the most. In the midst of frenetic preparations for the mission, Chin struggled to put into words what it is like to work in a disaster zone.

"There are so many different emotions that describe the complete sense of what it's like to be a relief worker in such devastation," said Chin. "But even after the first couple of days of a mission, many things that you face with health care just fall away. There is less politics, less red tape and you really get to see the value in helping people in need. Certainly people in a disaster zone like this need that assistance and it is very rewarding to provide that service and give back. It's what I've been trained for."

This will be Chin's fifth relief mission, having been deployed three times to Haiti in the wake of that country's devastating earthquake in 2010, and once to Pakistan to provide assistance after that nation's flooding in 2010. He and his team will remain in the Phillipines until December 9. He explained that missions are usually two to three weeks but because of the time required to travel so far, it seemed reasonable to extend this mission a bit longer.

Chin first became interested in disaster medical work during his residency in emergency medicine. Another physician who was going to Haiti to provide earthquake relief mentioned that CMAT was still sending teams. Chin quickly got in touch with CMAT himself and shipped out for Haiti as well. The experience was so meaningful to him that he increased his involvement with CMAT (he is now a board member for the organization as well as response coordinator) and obtained a European Master in Disaster Medicine.

"The problems you have on the ground there are much different than what you see here - the problems of not having a system around you because it's been devastated by environmental conditions," said Chin of medicine in a disaster zone. "The challenges are different but at the end of the day, whether working at home or working there you're helping people and that is the most important part."

To donate to CMAT's relief efforts go to their website at www.canadianmedicalteams.org