Project HOPE and the University of Puerto Rico Protect Emergency Medicine Supply
More than 15 percent of Puerto Rico’s adult population has diabetes. After Hurricane Maria, thousands of these patients struggled to access their medication. In partnership with the University of Puerto Rico, Project HOPE has established a solar-powered, island-wide cold chain to ensure uninterrupted access to temperature-sensitive medicines and vaccines, even in the wake of disaster.
“Insulin is a lifesaving drug, so it was catastrophic when the cold chain was suddenly disrupted by the devastation of Hurricane Maria.”
Health-care providers around the world depend on cold-chain logistics, a refrigerated supply chain that keeps medicines at the proper temperature. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, the island got a grim reminder of the importance of refrigeration to keep people healthy.
Broken bridges, a shortage of fuel and downed power lines all made it extremely difficult for temperature-sensitive medicines to reach the island in the months after the storm. Obtaining and storing insulin was especially difficult, since it must be kept between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the wake of the storm, many patients on the island, including children and the elderly, went without their medication until normal infrastructure could be restored or emergency responders were able to help them. For many, including 9-year-old Nayeli of Humacao, it was a matter of life and death.
A new cold chain in Puerto Rico
Project HOPE’s Logistics Coordinator on the Puerto Rico team, Luis Jimenez, monitors the temperature of vaccines Project HOPE distributed using the new cold chain program during a community vaccination event on Palacio de Recreación y Deportes in Mayaguez. Photo by Project HOPE, 2019.
Earlier this year, Project HOPE and the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus (RCM) took a major step to ensure this emergency does not repeat itself.
The two organizations signed an agreement to create a cold chain for medicine and vaccine storage throughout the island. The refrigerated storage system, designed in response to the challenges faced by diabetes patients after Hurricane Maria, will become an important component of the Department of Health’s emergency plan.
“Insulin is a lifesaving drug, so it was catastrophic when the cold chain was suddenly disrupted by the devastation of Hurricane Maria,” said Dr. Tom Kenyon, CEO and chief medical officer of Project HOPE. “The partnership with the Medical Sciences Campus is critical because it ensures the safety, monitoring and integrity of Puerto Rico’s cold chain in the event of any emergency or natural disaster.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the Medical Sciences Campus is responsible for the required maintenance and detailed inventory of the cold chain, as well as the facilitation of public access to the stored medicines in case of an emergency. The cold chain’s refrigeration system is powered by solar energy to ensure proper functioning in the event of a widespread power outage.
“This agreement benefits all of Puerto Rico – and the education of future pharmacists on the island. It is certainly a situation where we all win.”
Project HOPE was one of the first organizations to arrive on Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. In the days and weeks after the storm, our medical volunteers provided health services through mobile health clinics in areas where the need was greatest and access to health care was scarce. Today, Puerto Rico’s health needs remain significant, and we are still there, working with local partners to tackle the challenges of diabetes and hypertension and strengthen emergency preparedness.
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