Washington, Oct. 6, 2017 (PAHO/WHO) - The Pan American Health Organization is focusing on quick delivery of expertise and supplies to islands affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, with a focus on Anguilla, Antigua, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, and Turks and Caicos Islands, according to the Organization's Department of Health Emergencies.
In coordination with partners, PAHO now has logistics hubs operating in Barbados, Panama and Antigua to deliver emergency medical supplies and equipment, generators, water containers, chlorine tablets, and supplies to repair damaged water systems.
The Organization is coordinating emergency projects to cover medical supplies, reestablish health services, and purchase essential medicines and medical equipment, together with other UN agencies, international NGOs, military, and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, CDEMA.
In Dominica, where Hurricane Maria devastated the island, PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne arrived Wednesday to review the health situation, and commended health care workers for their service "even when they themselves have suffered losses."
PAHO's responsibility is "to prepare countries to face emergencies, but in the immediate aftermath of a disaster is it to help with the response, the recovery and the rehabilitation," Etienne said in a briefing with Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.
The latest Situation Report from PAHO shows that of 49 health facilities, 30 are operational with varying degrees of damage and 17 clinic-level facilities are not operational, while 2,905 people are still in shelters and support is still needed for fuel, water and water storage for health facilities.
Drugs and medical supplies have arrived in Dominica, Etienne said, but all the vaccines were lost when electricity failures interrupted the cold chain required to keep vaccines safe. PAHO is working now to find funding for new vaccines for Dominica for a year, and to fix the cold chain.
Prime Minister Skerrit thanked Dr. Etienne, saying, "PAHO has been exceptional in assisting us in rationalizing our health situation" and sourcing pharmaceuticals and medicines. "We are profoundly grateful to PAHO and overwhelmed by the commitment, concern, are and diligence," he added.
Dr. Etienne outlined work to be done on Dominica, saying, "We must ensure that people that survive the hurricane remain healthy." It is important to boil water or drink bottled water, she said, and "We have brought in some 60,000 water purification tablets. Each tablet can purify 5 liters of water so we are also asking people to go to the health facilities to access water purification tables."
"We need to reduce mosquito breeding sites, especially of the Aedes aegypti, which breeds in our own houses. With this amount of debris around its going to be difficult to do that, but every householder has to be responsible for cleaning in and near his house," Etienne added. Control of mosquito vectors is underway or planned to avoid diseases like dengue, Zika and chikungunya, and rodent control is important to avoid leptospirosis and other diseases, she said.
Health authorities are stepping up surveillance of communicable diseases, gastroenteritis, diarrheal disease and respiratory infections, and people are being cautioned to avoid eating food that has been spoiled or drinking water that has not been treated.
Key challenges in water and sanitation include expanding distribution of water to all shelters and to the rest of the country, to avoid the risk of sewage overflow with the resumption of piped water in Roseau, and to resume the waste management system, PAHO's situation report noted.