Health needs have reached a critical point in communities devastated by the Fuego volcano eruption in Guatemala earlier this month. That’s why Project HOPE medical volunteers are treating patients at shelters, including one with more than 200 people from communities surrounding the volcano who have acute and chronic health issues such as respiratory complications, PTSD and related symptoms, burns, high blood pressure, and diabetes complications.
“It has been absolutely heartbreaking to witness what is happening in Guatemala. The number of sick children we’ve been treating stands out. These kids are so sick with respiratory illness from the ash and they are so scared about the uncertainty of what comes next that many can’t sleep at night,” said HOPE medical volunteer Nicole Merrill.
The medical needs are compounded by the health care gaps that existed prior to the volcanic eruption, due in part to high poverty and illiteracy rates, a lack of trained specialists, limited access to health services, and malnutrition. As Merrill observed, “Guatemalans lack many basic necessities at baseline, and this disaster has contributed to a steep decline in the quality of life that they had.”
The clinic Project HOPE’s medical team is in was established prior to the volcano’s eruption to address the severe lack of health services the community had, but before HOPE, the clinic was only seeing patients two days a week. Now with HOPE responders working there the other five days a week, the clinic is able to see patients every day.
But direct patient care is only one piece of the puzzle. A lack of prior health services meant there was no system in place to deliver lifesaving medications to patients in the area. Medical volunteers from Project HOPE established a distribution system for medications at the shelter so that children and families could receive the medicines they needed to stay alive. And with high illiteracy rates, medical responders have to go above and beyond to make sure their patients receive proper instructions for the medications.
“I treated a toddler who came in with his parents. He had been sick for a few days with upper respiratory issues so I wrote prescriptions to treat the symptoms. As I was explaining the directions for the medications to his parents, I realized they are unable to read, meaning that they could easily give the wrong medication at the wrong time to their child. I had to improvise, so I used colored markers to mark the bottle and help them identify the different medications,” said Dr. Jabnely Muñoz.
The lack of critical health services prior to the eruption are leading to bigger challenges for patients and responders alike in the aftermath of the disaster, but thanks to Project HOPE, survivors are beginning to have hope again.
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