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PAHO to focus on 'quick delivery' in wake of Caribbean hurricanes

Saturday, October 07, 2017

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WASHINGTON, United States (CMC) — The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says it is focusing on quick delivery of expertise and supplies to Caribbean islands affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, with particular attention to Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, and Turks and Caicos Islands.

In coordination with partners, PAHO said that it 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 organisation is coordinating emergency projects to cover medical supplies, re-establish health services, and purchase essential medicines and medical equipment, together with other United Nations agencies, international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), military, and the Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).

In Dominica, where Hurricane Maria devastated the island, PAHO said its director, Carissa F Etienne, who is a Dominican national, arrived there earlier this week to review the health situation.

PAHO said Dr Etienne commended health care workers in Dominica for their service “even when they themselves have suffered losses.”

In a briefing with Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, she said while it is PAHO's responsibility “to prepare countries to face emergencies,” in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, it also PAHO's role “to help with the response, the recovery and the rehabilitation.”

The latest PAHO Situation Report shows that, of 49 health facilities, 30 are operational with varying degrees of damage, and 17 clinic-level facilities are not operational.

The report notes 2,905 people are still in shelters, adding that support is still needed for fuel, water and water storage for health facilities.

Dr Etienne said drugs and medical supplies have arrived in Dominica, but added that all the vaccines were lost when electricity failures interrupted the cold chain required to keep vaccines safe.

She said PAHO is working now to find funding for new vaccines for Dominica for a year, and to fix the cold chain.

“PAHO has been exceptional in assisting us in rationalising our health situation,” Skerrit said, adding that the health organisation has also aided Dominica in sourcing pharmaceuticals and medicines.

“We are profoundly grateful to PAHO, and overwhelmed by the commitment, concern, care and diligence.”

In outlining work to be done on Dominica, Dr Etienne said “we must ensure that people that survive the hurricane remain healthy.”

She said it was important to boil water or drink bottled water.

“We have brought in some 60,000 water purification tablets. Each tablet can purify 5 litters 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,” Dr Etienne said, adding that control of mosquito vectors is underway or planned to avoid diseases like dengue, Zika and chikungunya.

She said rodent control is also important to avoid leptospirosis and other diseases.

PAHO said health authorities in Dominica are stepping up surveillance of communicable diseases, gastroenteritis, diarrheal disease and respiratory infections, and that people are being cautioned to avoid eating food that has been spoiled or to drink water that has not been treated.

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