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—leveling homes, destroying health facilities and damaging critical infrastructure.
Having arrived in Puerto Rico within days of Hurricane Maria, International Medical Corps continues to collaborate 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. In December, we expanded our efforts to help Puerto Ricans access health care 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 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.
Approximately 40% of Puerto Ricans are still without power
Accessing clean water has been difficult, increasing the risk of disease
Health facilities and other critical infrastructure suffered severe damage
Primary healthcare became harder to access in the aftermath of the hurricanes, as many people shifted to addressing survival needs over chronic conditions. International Medical Corps addressed this gap by partnering with five federally-qualified health centers in Puerto Rico to increase community outreach in hard-to-reach areas. In total, we deployed 20 volunteer doctors and nurses in 6 teams to support mobile medical centers across the island, providing consultations for 955 patients in 46 municipalities/barrios. This support also helped give local health workers a break, many of whom had been responding nonstop since the storms hit.
With approximately 40% of Puerto Rico still without power, many health clinics have resorted to limiting their hours of operation or providing care in smaller spaces that can be powered by a generator. International Medical Corps provided generators to 7 clinics and San Juan-area hospitals that would otherwise have had severely limited or no operating capacity, resulting in an additional 1,800 clinic hours. Maintaining an adequate cold chain for life-saving medications, especially those for chronic care as well as critical vaccines, has also been an ongoing challenge. Our team has been supporting 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 cannot pump water into their homes for cooking, bathing or flushing the toilet. While water services have been restored for most, there remain significant health concerns due to a lack of reliable drinking water in several municipalities. International Medical Corps has provided water bladders with a 500-gallon storage capacity to 6 health facilities to help increase access to potable water. We have also distributed 14,791 hygiene kits, as well as wound care kits, solar lights and other supplies to help families stay healthy in the aftermath of the hurricane.
The effects of Hurricane Maria on the Puerto Rican power and water infrastructure had a particularly negative impact on lactating women with infants and young children. To address these concerns post-Maria, International Medical Corps, in coordination with the Department of Health, launched a program to promote healthy infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices. Through our two partners, La Liga de La Leche and Alimentacion Segura Infantil, International Medical Corps is providing individual breastfeeding counseling and facilitating 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.
We Were There: Hurricanes in the Caribbean
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.Read more about our response