Like the rest of the United States, Puerto Rico is facing a significant strain on its healthcare system posed by the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, and COVID-19. Because International Medical Corps already has a team on the ground helping communities affected by natural disasters that recently have struck the island, we have been able to quickly provide emergency medical field units, personal protective equipment and other supplies, and clinical staff to hospitals dealing with surges in demand caused by the pandemic.
Following a 6.4-magnitude earthquake that hit the southern edge of the island on January 7, 2020, and a series of strong aftershocks that lasted for weeks, International Medical Corps worked closely with national and municipal authorities to provide mental health support, nutrition services and medical supplies to the thousands of people who were affected.
Our experience providing aid to Puerto Rico began in September 2017, when the Category 5 Hurricanes Irma and Maria delivered a one-two punch to the island, making landfall within weeks of each other and leaving millions without power and in need of a range of healthcare services.
Both storms were catastrophic—leveling 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 its work, in collaboration with local partners, including 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. We also help Puerto Ricans access healthcare through mobile medical units, which provide home visits for patients in hard-hit communities who are unable to travel to health facilities for treatment.