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Puerto Rico

The challenges and our response

ALERT: Our team is assessing how to help those affected by the earthquake that struck on January 7th. Read more about our response here.

The Category 5 storm Hurricane Irma hit the Atlantic basin the week of September 5, 2017, maintaining maximum intensity for 37 hours and leaving 1 million people in Puerto Rico without power.

Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Maria followed. Both storms were catastrophic to the island, home to 3.4 million U.S. citizens—levelling homes, destroying health facilities and damaging critical infrastructure. It took nearly a year to restore electric power to all the homes and businesses following the storms, which took out 80% of all power lines and flooded most of the island’s generators.

International Medical Corps arrived in Puerto Rico within days of Hurricane Maria and today continues recovery work in collaboration with La Asociación de Salud Primaria de Puerto Rico (ASPPR), a network of 76 health clinics focused on providing care to low-income families across the island. We are currently working on a long-term project to strengthen the island’s emergency response system. In December 2017, we expanded our efforts to help Puerto Ricans access healthcare through mobile medical units, which are providing home visits for patients in hard-hit communities who are unable to travel to health facilities for treatment.

As immediate relief efforts have shifted to recovery, International Medical Corps continues to provide power, clean water, communications and cash grants to 26 health facilities and local clinics, which have reached more than 63,000 people.

Primary Healthcare: Primary healthcare became harder to access in the aftermath of the hurricanes, as demand for urgent care spiked, crowding out time for treatment of more routine chronic conditions. International Medical Corps addressed this gap by partnering with five federally qualified health centres in Puerto Rico to increase community outreach in remote areas. In total, we deployed 20 volunteer doctors and nurses in six teams to support mobile medical centres across the island, providing consultations for nearly 1,000 patients in 46 municipalities, known as barrios. This support also helped give local health workers—many of whom had been responding nonstop since the storms hit—a break.

Disaster Recovery: Puerto Rico’s power supply was fully restored only recently, nearly a year after Hurricane Maria hit—and it remains fragile. Many health clinics have resorted to limiting their hours of operation or providing care in smaller spaces that can be powered by a portable generator. International Medical Corps has provided generators to seven clinics and San Juan-area hospitals that would otherwise have had severely limited operating capacity, or would have closed down completely. The generators provided an additional 1,800 clinic hours of service.

Maintaining adequate refrigeration for life-saving medications, especially those for chronic care and critical vaccines, has been an ongoing challenge. Our team continues to support the supply of medications across the island, especially those that require cold storage and transport.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH): Without electricity, Puerto Rico’s residents were unable to pump water into their homes for cooking, bathing or toilet-flushing. Though water services have largely been restored, significant health concerns remain, due to a lack of reliable drinking water in several municipalities. International Medical Corps has provided 500-gallon capacity water bladders to six health facilities to help increase access to potable water. We have also distributed nearly 15,000 hygiene kits, as well as wound care kits, solar lights and other supplies, to help families stay healthy in the aftermath of the hurricane.

Nutrition: The damage to Puerto Rico’s power and water infrastructure hit nursing women with infants and young children particularly hard. To address these concerns, International Medical Corps worked with the Department of Health to launch a program promoting healthy infant and young-child feeding (IYCF) practices. Through our two local partners, La Liga de La Leche and Alimentacion Segura Infantil, we have provided individual breastfeeding counselling and facilitated mother support-group sessions. To increase community support and adoption of IYCF practices, International Medical Corps is raising awareness in the community through workshops, radio spots and social media content that focus on the life-saving effects of breastfeeding.

Long-Term Capacity Building: International Medical Corps continues to support the health and medical needs of Puerto Ricans still struggling to recover from the hurricanes, working to ensure a stronger, safer island. Together with the Primary Care Association of Puerto Rico (ASPPR), we have embarked on a $1.3 million, 13-month program to integrate community health centres into the island’s emergency response system, as a critical step to reduce the deaths and injuries that could occur in future disasters. We are assisting ASPPR with funding to hire full-time emergency managers who can create an emergency preparedness program that will benefit all member health centres and deliver mental health training to healthcare workers.

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