On June 3, Guatemala’s Fuego Volcano erupted, covering entire towns in ash and driving nearly 13,000 people from their homes. In response, Project HOPE mobilized an emergency response team (ERT) that included medical practitioners to conduct a rapid needs assessment and provide immediate relief and assistance.
Our team visited cramped local shelters, hospitals and affected communities and provided health care services, medicines and logistics support to people in Escuintla and Sacatepéquez. Our volunteers met and cared for those who needed medical attention. A volunteer doctor on the ground, Elizabeth Lee, describes setting up the clinic in Escuintla:
“The road into Esquintla was closed due to landslides and debris and much of the town has evacuated. The Fuego Volcano continued to erupt sporadically, sending ash, sand, debris and toxic air into nearby towns. Yet some people have remained in this town, whether due to worries about looting or because they have no place to go. To enter the town, we had to pass through a couple military checkpoints. Businesses were closed and there were no cars on the road. A thick layer of black sand collected along the edges of the road and fine ash covered roofs and fences. While it seemed deserted, we knew there were people in the town that needed medical care and our challenge was figuring out how to let them know we had arrived.”
“We worked with a local church, built of stucco, painted yellow with a corrugated metal roof, to set up a clinic in the town. Inside were a dozen pews made from pine slats, two horizontally for the seat, two vertically for the back, which we decided were perfect for exam tables. We rearranged the sanctuary and set up shop, deciding where to check patients in and where our “pharmacy” will be. Working with the church, which already had deep connections to the community, we were able to make access to the clinic as easy as possible for residents.”
“Each day, we saw patients, mostly kids and the elderly, with asthma, coughs and sore throats resulting from the persistent ash and smoky air. We also saw patients who were dizzy with dehydration, in pain from burns, abrasions and sprains, plus patients with chronic problems like blood pressure and diabetes. We wrapped the burns, treated cuts, and provided medicines, inhalers and water. We were a lifeline to a community otherwise cut off from medical care.”
In Guatemala, Project HOPE provided health services to 407 people in communities and shelters. Our team worked in shelters, clinics and mobile medical units, and also provided home visits to people living in remote communities. HOPE volunteers also conducted health education sessions with 1,204 patients, families and community members on topics like understanding diagnoses and treatment plans, recognizing danger signs among family members or friends with injuries or illnesses and good hygiene practices to prevent illness. Medical volunteers also developed a color coding system to help patients who were unable to read be able to follow their prescriptions and take their medication properly.
By using the HOPE model of partnering and coordinating with key emergency response stakeholders, we were also able to establish a distribution system to ensure medicines were easily identified, accessible when needed and utilized prior to their expiration date.
Communities affected by the eruption of the Fuego Volcano are facing a long and difficult recovery process. As Dr. Lee says, “There’s no going back for the thousands who had to flee. The towns they lived in and the farms they worked on are gone and it will be decades before anything grows in those areas again.”
This will be a long-term challenge for Guatemala and Project HOPE is committed to helping the people of Guatemala and will continue to explore ways to provide support.
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