Hurricanes in the Caribbean
International Medical Corps Responding in Puerto Rico, Florida, and the Caribbean
International Medical Corps is responding in Puerto Rico, Florida, and across the Caribbean to ensure families are safe and have the resources they need to recover in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Hurricane Irma was recorded as the 11th most intense hurricane in the Atlantic basin, maintaining maximum intensity for 37 hours and hitting the Caribbean the week of September 5th.
Hurricane Maria followed less than two weeks later, traveling over Dominica on September 18th as a Category 5 storm, and later over Puerto Rico on September 20th.
Many of the impacted regions are still struggling to recover from the devastation.
International Medical Corps’ disaster response experts are on the ground in Puerto Rico and Dominica, coordinating with response agencies and local organisations in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
This includes supporting health system recovery, running mobile medical units, restoring access to power and safe drinking water, and distributing emergency relief items. We are also supporting recovery efforts in Florida.
After arriving to Puerto Rico within days of Hurricane Maria, continues to collaborate with the 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.
Power outages continue to make it difficult to operate health facilities, with many clinics resorting to limiting the hours they are open or providing care in smaller spaces that can be powered by a generator. Maintaining a cold chain for many urgently needed medications, especially those for chronic care, has been a challenge.
We provided generators to seven clinics and San Juan-area hospitals that would otherwise have severely limited or no operating capacity. As the power grid comes back online, generators are relocated to health clinics in greater need, ensuring that more clinics have the opportunity to provide access to care. In addition, we have provided water bladders with a 500-gallon storage capacity to six health facilities help increase access to potable water. We made cash grants to ASPPR clinics for fuel, minor infrastructure improvements, and staff wellness activities to ensure facilities can operate without interruption. We worked with a partner organisation to restore internet and communications capabilities for 11 ASPPR health facilities. We have also distributed 8,000 hygiene kits as well as wound care kits, solar lights, and other supplies that can help families stay healthy in the aftermath of crises.
In December, we expanded our efforts to help Puerto Ricans access health care with mobile medical units, which are providing home visits for patients in hard-hit communities who are unable to travel to health facilities for treatment. Our team is also looking at how we can support the supply of medications across the island, especially those that require cold storage and transport.
As immediate relief efforts shift to recovery, International Medical Corps will continue to provide power, clean water, communications, and cash grants to 26 health facilities and local clinics that reach more than 63,000 people. A second phase of cash grants to ASPPR is in development
In Dominica, International Medical Corps has been responding in Dominica to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria since the storm hit in September with health; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS); and logistics support.
Our volunteer medical teams, comprised of doctors and nurses, have been deployed to some of the hardest hit areas of the island in St. John and St. Andrew’s parish—home to a combined 18,000 people and some of the island’s most heavily populated areas. The teams are supporting hospitals and community health clinics, relieving overworked staff, and making home visits to vulnerable households, including the elderly and single-headed households. During the initial emergency response, International Medical Corps volunteer teams conducted 764 patient consultations, covering 101 shifts in 11 clinics and hospitals. International Medical Corps is now working to extend these services to provide additional medical volunteers and support.
At the same time, our pharmacists worked with the Ministry of Health and the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) to help restore the pharmaceutical supply chain in Dominica. This included providing critical medicines and medical supplies—known as an International Emergency Health Kit—that we delivered to Dominica to help provide care for up to 10,000 people for three months. These medicines and supplies were distributed to Salibya Health Centre, Princess Margaret Hospital, and Newtown health facility.
International Medical Corps, in collaboration with Pharmacists Without Borders/Pharmaciens Sans Frontières, is also supporting the Central Medical Store (CMS) of Dominica’s Ministry of Health. Rotating teams of two volunteer pharmacists are assisting the CMS to sort, organise, and inventory medicines and supplies. They have also updated stock records, inventory levels, and established records of medical demand based on consumption. In the coming week, the teams will facilitate pharmaceutical distribution from the CMS to hospitals and clinics, providing supply chain support that will ensure local facilities and communities have access to the care and supplies they need.
In addition, International Medical Corps is trucking in 400-800 gallons of safe drinking water daily in seven communities. As of December 6th, 411,658 litres have been distributed to targeted communities benefitting 1,740 people. To complement the water trucking, we hired six Community Health Workers who will be conducting outreach and education to these communities on water, sanitation and hygiene and health messaging, with a focus on hygiene promotion. To help families stay healthy with water systems down, International Medical Corps also distributed nearly 3,000 hygiene kits to affected communities with the assistance of the Village Councils. We have also been working with the Dominican Water and Sanitation Company to repair public water systems.
To support mental health needs, on December 2nd, International Medical Corps, in collaboration with IsraAid and the Dominican Psychological Society carried out its first psychological first aid training for national level Girl Guide leaders. There were a total of fourteen participants from across seven localities; using this training, leaders will be able to support the mental health of their Girl Guide participants as these young women and girls recover.
To further support recovery efforts, International Medical Corps will launch Psychological First Aid Trainings. These trainings will target community leaders in villages in St. John and St. Andrew parishes, with a total of 34-40 people trained.
Earlier in our response, with transportation across Dominica and other Caribbean islands severely limited in the immediate aftermath of the storms, International Medical Corps provided an air bridge with regular flights into Dominica, Antigua, and the British Virgin Islands to transport medical volunteers, first responders, patients, and government officials to the most devastated regions. In addition, these flights were able to transport urgently-needed medical supplies and equipment. The air bridge, which ran from September 29 to October 31, transported 328 people, including Ministry of Health officials, International Medical Corps staff, medical volunteer teams, patients, and other first responders as well as 71,000 pounds of cargo that included medical equipment, specimen samples, and lifesaving relief.
Moving forward, International Medical Corps is focused on helping communities recover and rebuild, working with the government and Dominica Red Cross to bring water systems back online, and helping families stay healthy. To further support recovery efforts and ensure coordination among response organisations, International Medical Corps also established and is chairing the Mental Health Psychosocial Support (MHPSS)/Gender-Based Violence (GBV) working group in Dominica.
Antigua, Haiti and Across the Caribbean
On other Caribbean islands, we have focused on getting health systems back up and running. In addition to providing daily flights from Dominica in the immediate aftermath of the storms, we also funded charters to the British Virgin Islands and Antigua to facilitate the movement of humanitarian workers and supplies. We have also mobilised hygiene kits for hard-hit communities across the Caribbean, including 2,000 kits distributed to displaced Barbudans and Dominicans now in Antigua. We are also partnering with the University of the West Indies to support the mental health and psychosocial needs of storm survivors.
At the same time, our team in northern Haiti continues to operate mobile medical units that can respond to flare-ups of cholera—a risk that could increase as a result of heavy rainfall. The team is looking at ways they can plus up support to help prevent a spike in cholera cases and working to identify additional relief that might be needed.
International Medical Corps is also working with a local network of 30 clinics in Florida that reach 80,000 underserved men, women, and children in and around Fort Myers. With many of the clinic staff displaced from their homes, International Medical Corps is providing sanitation facilities to help them return to work. We are also working to restore power and the network’s clinic in Bonita Springs, which serves some 30,000 people. In addition, we are also partnering with a clinic network in Miami-Dade County, helping to provide low or no-cost medication for vulnerable families, ensuring that they continue to receive care for chronic diseases like diabetes, and easing their financial burden as they recover and rebuild in the wake of the storms.