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Puerto Rico

Our Work in Puerto Rico

Americares work in Puerto Rico began in 2016 in response to the devastating Zika outbreak that impacted communities across the island. Shortly thereafter, on September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria dealt a massive blow to Puerto Rico when it made landfall as a deadly Category 4 storm, exacerbating the health needs of families reeling from a severe economic crisis, decades of underinvestment in critical infrastructure, an infectious disease outbreak and more.

On the Frontlines of Puerto Rico’s Recovery

Over the past five years, Americares has been on the frontlines of Puerto Rico’s recovery, increasing access to medicine for low-income patients, helping clinics across the island better prepare for future emergencies and training thousands of health workers and first responders to better manage their own stress and trauma so they can continue their lifesaving work. Beyond this, Americares also responded to the destructive 2020 earthquakes that struck the island’s southwest coast and launched a robust response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, Americares launched a response to Hurricane Fiona, which struck Puerto Rico just days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, triggering life-threatening flooding and landslides that caused catastrophic damage to roads and bridges and leaving the entire island without power. In response, the Americares team based in San Juan is prepared to deliver urgently needed medicines and relief supplies for survivors and provide emergency funding to help repair damaged health centers in the hardest-hit communities.

Hurricane Maria Response

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, as a Category 4 storm, causing an estimated $94 billion in damages and leaving a toll of over 2,900 lives lost. Countless survivors lived for months without power or safe water and little or no access to health services.

In the five years since Hurricane Maria, Americares has provided medicines, supplies, technical assistance and grants valued at $50 million, trained more than 38,000 health workers, first responders, teachers and community leaders and implemented more than a dozen health programs, saving lives and improving health. Americares is building capacity and resiliency by investing in health centers – and Puerto Rico’s greatest resource – its people.

Watch the video that tells the story of our work and our commitment to health care in Puerto Rico. Click on the arrow.

Americares committed to help the U.S. territory recover and to strengthen its health system. Our immediate response included emergency airlifts of urgently needed medicines and medical supplies, the deployment of mobile medical teams to provide primary care services and establishing a base of operations in San Juan to oversee our emergency response and recovery work.

$50 million

value of medicines, supplies, technical assistance and grants delivered since 2017

352,000

prescriptions filled

38,000

health workers trained

14

health projects launched

Mental Health

The need for mental health support in Puerto Rico continues—especially for first responders and caregivers. Health workers, firefighters, police officers and teachers have been on the frontlines of the island’s long-term recovery, while also being survivors of multiple disasters themselves.

In response to the growing need for mental health support, Americares has trained nearly 38,000 health workers, first responders, teachers and community leaders to better identify, assess and respond to their own mental health needs as well as the needs of those they serve.

Most recently, Americares launched a pilot program to train teachers and others in the school community to better help their students navigate the psychological impact of disasters and link these schools to local community health centers—empowering those in the school environment to provide psychological first aid, but also linking them to the next level of care and creating a pathway for those affected to receive critically needed services.

Health System Strengthening

Hurricane Maria laid bare the reality that while clinics across the island had emergency preparedness plans in place prior to storm, they proved insufficient against the onslaught and destruction brought about by a Category 4 storm. Americares is committed to improving health services in Puerto Rico and is working with partners on the island to conduct disaster preparedness workshops and ensure health centers have customized disaster plans that improve post-disaster health outcomes.

COVID-19 Response

Americares launched a robust response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Puerto Rico, delivering protective supplies, including masks, gowns, gloves and disinfectants, to keep health workers and patients safe, as well as training for health workers, first responders, teachers and community leaders to build their capacity in topics such as mental health and psychosocial support, health systems strengthening, infection, prevention, and control and outbreak preparedness. Americares also implemented a critical program to help reinforce vaccine confidence among health care personnel, and in turn the patients and communities they serve. More than 9,000 health workers were reached through this effort.   

Earthquakes

In January 2020, a series of earthquakes in the southwestern part of Puerto Rico severely impacted communities still recovering from Hurricane Maria. In the most destructive of the shocks, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake killed at least one person, toppled buildings and caused power outages across the island.

Americares deployed an emergency response team from its office in San Juan to Guánica, the epicenter, to assist families displaced by the earthquakes. The team, which included psychologists, a social worker and a counselor, provided psychological first aid to children and adults staying at a temporary emergency shelter. Americares also delivered medicines and relief supplies to partner health clinics impacted by the crisis.

Puerto Rico – A Regional Response Hub

Given Americares Puerto Rico’s strategic location in the Caribbean, our locally based staff members not only provide essential health programming across the island, but they can also be deployed  as emergency response experts and mental health professionals at a moment’s notice to respond to crises throughout the Caribbean and beyond. Americares Puerto Rico staff members have supported emergency responses and delivered mental health and psychosocial trainings in the Bahamas, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Florida, Honduras, the U.S. Virgin Islands, among other locations, in recent years.

Relief worker takes blood pressure in an outdoor clinic in Puerto Rico

Health Snapshot

According to the 2017 United States Census Bureau, 30 percent of Puerto Rico’s population at the time was over 55 years of age, and 24 percent were over 60 years old. Families are having fewer children, and many young people are leaving the island. And after Hurricane Maria, the Census Bureau estimated 130,000 more left.  While some people have returned, that still leaves a population estimated to be about 2.8 million with a median age of 44 years and presenting serious challenges to the health system.

The health issues that accompany an aging population intensified following the hurricane. Chronic disease such as diabetes and hypertension are common among an older population. The fragility of an infrastructure that could not withstand hurricanes and earthquakes meant that the collapse of power grid, water and sanitation only added to the health threats of water and mosquito borne diseases.  When many health facilities could no longer provide services, an already vulnerable population confronted an unprecedented public health crisis.  Americares establishment of an office and an in- country team was in response to the magnitude of that crisis.