Nassau, Bahamas, Sept. 3, 2019— A Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) team is working closely with health authorities in the Bahamas to support their response to Hurricane Dorian, which has damaged health facilities and flooded hospitals on Abaco islands and Grand Bahama island.
Prior to the hurricane, the PAHO/WHO country office contributed to the Ministry of Health’s preparedness and response planning. PAHO also pre-positioned experts from its sub-regional office in Barbados to assist the country in on-site assessments of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and health infrastructure and facilities needs.
Additional support on logistics, civil and military coordination, information management, surveillance, and coordination are expected to arrive in the next 24 hours to work with counterparts in the country.
A Rapid Assessment is crucial to assist the health ministry in the implementation of urgent life-saving interventions, said Dr. Ciro Ugarte, director of PAHO’s Health Emergencies Department.
Hurricane Dorian struck the Abaco islands most severely, and significant damage to health infrastructure is likely, although communications are currently cut, and the island cannot be reached.
Some 400 persons sought shelter at the clinic in Marsh Harbour on Abaco, and initial reports of deaths and injuries have not yet been confirmed. In Grand Bahama, Dorian stalled over the island with intense rainfall, 165 mph winds and 15-20 feet of storm surges. Reports indicate people are stranded in flooded buildings.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) informed that at least 20 critical patients were evacuated from Abaco to the Princess Margaret Hospital by the Royal Bahamas Defense Forces.
Health personnel from New Providence and other unaffected Family Islands are on stand-by to be deployed to Abaco and Grand Bahamas to replace exhausted health care professionals. The MoH is determining what additional medical teams need to be deployed to the affected islands and will decide on deployments according to the needs on the affected islands.
On Grand Bahama Island, Rand Memorial Hospital has 70 nurses, 3 emergency physicians and senior health officers on standby for medical needs on other islands, and the Ministry of Health is setting up a rotating system for physicians and nurses to provide support to Marsh Harbour Clinic, once Abaco is deemed safe.
Extensive flooding in both affected islands, damage to the Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport, Grand Bahama, displacement of persons as a result of property damage or loss and psychological trauma of the population could bring additional public health challenges.
PAHO’s country office in the Bahamas is also working closely with the National Emergency Management Agency of The Bahamas. Experts are assessing what medical supplies will be needed, after an evaluation of the country’s health facilities and their operational status.
Other countries and organizations in the Caribbean and elsewhere have offered to send emergency medical teams, Dr. Ugarte said, but an assessment of needs must be completed first.
PAHO is also working closely with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), and other international partners to support the Government of the Bahamas in rapidly assessing the damage from Hurricane Dorian and in prioritizing needs.
PAHO will liaise with international partners to mobilize human and financial resources to respond to the health sector needs identified and requested by the national authorities.