PROTECT & CRECE Provide Community Support for Puerto Rico Following Devastation Caused by Hurricanes Irma & Maria

Oct 19, 2017 | Community Engagement Core, PROTECT Team

Since Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico in late September, the PROTECT and CRECE Centers have been very active in the recovery–collaborating with other groups to ensure the safety and welfare of team members, study participants, community health center partners, and members of the surrounding communities.

The PROTECT and CRECE teams have research partnerships with four Federally Qualified Community Health Centers (CHCs) in Puerto Rico, in Morovis, Ciales, Manatí, Camuy, and with the Manati Medical Center and the Metro Pavia Arecibo Hospitals.  These and other CHCs are providing support to obtain urgent and necessary supplies and medicine to the communities they serve.  Discussions with collaborators at these CHCs as well as with study participants identified needs that are of highest priority in the communities of our research programs. They include: drinking water, mosquito repellent, mosquito nets, hand sanitizer, insulin, nebulizers, oxygen, Pedialyte, disposable diapers, baby wipes, and baby food. Dr. Gredia Huerta-Montañez, CRECE pediatrician, has donated significant quantities of these materials to the CHCs. The PROTECT and CRECE team on the ground in Puerto Rico is joining with Master’s students at the University of Puerto Rico, School of Public Health to organize, pack, and distribute donated goods and materials. These materials have come from multiple sources, including through donations that came through the University of Georgia that were brought to Puerto Rico by Michael Welton, research fellow in PROTECT and the Zika in Pregnancy Study.

The PROTECT/CRECE staff at a post-hurricane meeting where water filters donated by Caritas were assembled and distributed to the staff who lost their homes and water supply after the hurricane. More filters have been assembled and distributed to participants. Two of the staff lost their homes and are staying with relatives

PROTECT and CRECE are currently developing educational materials related to food and water consumption during this emergency. In addition, the teams are working to educate community members on public health issues relevant in the recovery phase, such as on injury prevention and on the appropriate use of generators. In particular, Superfund Research Program officials have contacted team leaders with requests to advise communities near the Superfund Sites. The area surrounding Dorado is of greatest concern due to reports of contaminated drinking water in this area. PROTECT and CRECE students on the ground in Puerto Rico are organizing a group of student volunteers to support communities impacted by the Superfund sites and educate them about the potential health impacts of water use.

One of the water filtration systems set up in a Puerto Rican Community Health Center thanks to the aid of Vestergaard Frandsen, Dr. Tim Dye, and his team.

 On the mainland, PROTECT and CRECE team members located at Northeastern University and the University of Georgia have sent mosquito repellent, non-perishable food, batteries, flash lights, solar-powered phone chargers, battery-operated fans, hand sanitizer, disinfectant, potable water filters, diapers, baby wipes, and essential drugs to Puerto Rico. These items have been distributed to study participants, team members in need, as well as to employees and patients of the CHCs.

Aid has also come in from groups outside of PROTECT and CRECE, both on the mainland as well as from groups operating in Puerto Rico. The Jesuit Corporation of San Ignacio de Loyola in Puerto Rico coordinated with Dr. Gredia Huerta-Montañez to donate 4,000 filters for water filtration systems that can provide dozens of gallons of potable water daily to people in the CHCs and adjacent communities. Over 50 systems have been distributed, and usage and management guidance on the filtration systems has been provided.

Regarding the need for safe drinking water, the team has also been supported by the Center for Research in Global Health at the University of Rochester Medical Center under the direction of Dr. Tim Dye. Dye and his team delivered 10 water purification systems donated by the company Vestergaard Frandsen. In addition, Dye has also received a donation of 3 tents to organize health clinics for excluded communities that do not have access to health service networks and should arrive in Puerto Rico in the following days.

Questions from community members in Puerto Rico regarding water treatment and water safety have been shared with colleagues, Madeleine Scammell (CEC Core Lead) and Wendy Heiger-Bernays (RTC Core Lead) at the Boston University Superfund Program. In response, CRECE’s Gredia Huerta-Montañez and BU SRP (RTC) have been coordinating response and communication efforts by leveraging the expertise of scientists in Puerto Rico, on the mainland, and in Canada.

Through its local chapter, the March of Dimes has donated 500 Zika kits including insect repellents, mosquito nets, and other items to prevent mosquito-borne infections. Team members on the ground in Puerto Rico working tirelessly on these efforts include Dr. Carmen Milagros Vélez Vega, Zaira Rosario, Abigail Figueroa, Dr. Gredia Huerta-Montañez, Natacha Guilliotty, Carlos Vergara, Lilliana González, and Field Nurses, and student trainees Colleen Murphy, Hector Torres, Zulmarie Diaz, Stacy Santiago, and Rafael Rios.  These team members deserve the highest praise for their incredible work, despite the personal trauma and stress they have undergone in the aftermath of the hurricanes, many of them living without electric power for more than seven weeks. While more complications and needs arise every day in Puerto Rico following this natural disaster, aid from team members and outside groups has consistently spread hope and improved health in the darkest of times.

To view more post-Maria photos from our team in Puerto Rico, visit our google photos album.