As Hurricane Maria smashed into Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and other beleaguered Caribbean islands, Americares emergency experts responded immediately to this deadly storm. Maria caused widespread devastation on the island of Dominica, left Puerto Rico in terrible crisis and then continued its assault on islands already battered by Hurricane Irma. One of our first response teams on the ground in Puerto Rico hand carried $60,000 worth of antibiotics and medical supplies, some of which were delivered to a children’s hospital.
With much of the island's infrastructure damaged or destroyed by Maria and health services severely limited, Tom Cotter, our team leader in Puerto Rico, reported that hospitals and health centers were running critically low on supplies. Power and cell service remain out for much of the island, particularly in areas outside of the cities. A number of water and sewage treatment plants are still out of service and some hospitals and other health facilities are either closed or dependent on generator power. A boil water advisory remains in effect. Our teams have been traveling to several remote communities to bring supplies and assess needs. Some of the health workers reported that Americares brought in the first aid they had received.
Americares has now provided more than $40 million worth of medicines and supplies to communities affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Dominica and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Aid shipments continue as mobile medical teams bring health care to those cut off from access.
As Americares shipments continue to arrive in Puerto Rico and to ensure that the medicine and relief supplies reach health facilities serving patients in need, the team has completed 147 local distributions of medicines and supplies to 68 partners including 18 hospitals and clinics. Our assessment teams have visited hospitals and clinics on the islands of Vieques and Culebra, Mayaguez, Rincon in the west, Utuado in the mountains, as well as the greater Ponce and San Juan areas to determine recovery needs. The team set up a temporary structure in one community to allow an inoperable health facility to offer services again. They also are helping to provide transportation for dialysis patients in Vieques to and from the mainland. Earlier, 60 health professionals at Ponce Health Science University received disaster medicine training.
Simultaneously, Americares’ Mobile Medical Unit team has provided 1209 patient consultations, including 243 house calls for patients unable to travel to health facilities for care and 111 mental health consults. More than 80 health professionals have participated in disaster medicine training or mental health workshops. More mental health support efforts are underway as the trauma effects become more evident in the storm's aftermath.
On September 20, Americares deployed response staff to St. Lucia who then traveled by helicopter to Dominica, hand-carrying medicine and supplies for the damaged hospital. More shipments of supplies have followed. To date, Americares has confirmed widespread damage to health infrastructure in several Dominica parishes and has committed to rehabilitating 7 local health facilities across 5 districts. The facilities being repaired serve a cumulative area of over 5,500 patients. To date, repairs at the La Plaine Health Centre have been completed, and it is now operating at full capacity. The rehabilitation of the Bellevue Chopin Health Centre is nearly finished. The team has blue prints for the remaining five facilities and expects all seven health facilities will be completed by the end of January. Americares also is helping the Ministry of Health to organize and inventory donated medical supplies. More than 60% of the island's housing has been damaged or destroyed along with all of its agriculture.
“Americares went down, we are gathering the needs list – what they need most urgently and when – and bringing it back up here to San Juan, and then we will be doing air shipments and cargo via boat, coming in with medicines and medical supplies for the additional needs and all of the recovery.”
In addition to deployment of response teams, Americares previously had been working with the Puerto Rico Department of Health to stock emergency shelters in San Juan with medical equipment and supplies. As more shipments arrive, the team has begun the difficult task of assessing the many health system needs and planning for a long recovery.
The day before Maria made landfall, Americares rushed an emergency airlift carrying $1.8 million in critical medicine and medical supplies to the U.S. Virgin Islands. The shipment contained more than 3 tons of urgently needed medical aid for patients with storm-related illnesses and injuries, as well as chronic disease medicine to replace medications lost in the storm.
At the same time, Americares relief workers continue to assist the Hurricane Irma relief efforts in the Caribbean and South Florida, as well as provide assistance to communities in southeast Texas recovering from Hurricane Harvey. To date, Americares has shipped more than $62 million in medicines, supplies, and other assistance to more than 50 partners in Texas, Florida, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominica and St. Martin to help survivors of the recent storms.
Americares has professional relief workers ready to respond to disasters at a moment’s notice and stocks emergency medicine and supplies in its warehouses in the U.S., Europe and India that can be delivered quickly in times of crisis. The organization responds to an average of 30 natural disasters and humanitarian crises worldwide each year, establishes long-term recovery projects and brings disaster preparedness programs to vulnerable communities.
Should Americares raise funds in excess of what's needed to respond to this particular crisis, the funds will be redirected to where the need is greatest.