Hurricane Maria continues to present daily challenges in Puerto Rico
Puerto Ricans are facing a new normal that presents daily challenges to public health.
Puerto Rico is starting to return to a sense of normalcy Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in late September. Electricity is slowing being restored throughout the island and schools have started reopening after being shuttered for over a month. Still, it’s a very different normal from what Puerto Ricans were accustomed to before the storm; a new normal that presents daily challenges to the health of many on the island.
Take Edgardo, a teacher in Ponce, a low-income community where resources are still scarce. He spends his days searching for clean water and gasoline, both of which are still in limited supply in many parts of the island. “Right now I worry about the health issues with the water,” he said, noting that he’s dealt with gastritis after the storm.
Getting food is still a challenge as well. Although most grocery stores are back in operation, challenges with distribution have driven up costs and made it more difficult to keep food fresh. “When I want to buy food on the supermarket there are a lot of empty shelves,” he said. “The produce in the stores are out of date in Ponce.”
Recently, Eduardo was able to visit Project HOPE’s Mobile Medical Unit to get treatment for his gastritis and hypertension. He was finally able to get medical care after weeks of struggling to find relief after the storm.
While he was able to find relief, he also has other people to worry about. His parents, who work as farmers, lost nearly everything in the storm. “Their house was completely ruined by the hurricane except for one room that is still standing,” he said. “They don’t want to leave their house because they have livestock.” His mother also faces challenges due to hypertension.
He also has concerns for his students, including those who are still at shelters because their houses were destroyed in the storm. The lack of clean water has contributed to conjunctivitis and scabies outbreaks, which are difficult to contain in the close quarters of a shelter.
Worries about his parents and students, on top of his own challenges, have made things stressful for Eduardo as well as many others struggling to cope with the new daily realities of life after Hurricane Maria. “I have a hard time sleeping,” he said.
Project HOPE is continuing to address the most pressing health needs in Puerto Rico. The team is using a mobile medical clinic model equipped with a stocked pharmacy and a multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and pharmacists to provide care to hard-to-reach areas of the island like Ponce. The team was also recently joined by a mental health professional to support the growing need for mental health services among clinic patients.
Edgardo, like many on the island, is eager to see things return to the way things were before the storm. While it will still take time for that to happen, he sees how HOPE’s response is helping accelerate the recovery process. “This makes people feel secure and gives inspiration to move forward and to help,” he said.