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PAHO Aids Relief Efforts in Storm-Struck Caribbean


Washington, D.C., September 21, 2004 (PAHO)
—Disaster experts from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) are working with other international and local agencies to carry out relief efforts in nine Caribbean countries affected by hurricanes and tropical storms that swept through the region in recent weeks.

A record-setting North Atlantic hurricane season so far has left more than 500 dead and tens of thousands affected throughout the region.

PAHO has mobilized teams of disaster coordinators, physicians, sanitary and civil engineers, health systems experts, and relief supply management personnel to the Bahamas, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica. Staff already stationed in Cuba and Panama were deployed there.

The organization also has appealed for international aid and is coordinating shipments of vital supplies through its Humanitarian Supply Management System (SUMA). Canada, the European Commission, the United Kingdom and the United States have provided emergency support for PAHO’s efforts.

Reports today from a PAHO team in Haiti indicate that at least 500 Haitians were killed in flooding after Tropical Storm Jeanne dumped up to 16 inches of rain on the island of Hispaniola this past weekend. More than 100,000 residents of the northern cities of Gonaives and Port de Paix were in need of food, water, shelter and medication after severe flooding. Some 500 flood victims are currently in the morgue at Gonaives' main hospital, with survivors being treated elsewhere. The floods destroyed 75 percent of a United Nations Stabilization Mission encampment in the area, uprooting 450 foreign peacekeepers.

"PAHO was already on the ground in Haiti to help with the humanitarian crisis," said PAHO Director Mirta Roses. "Now this natural disaster has meant new suffering for the Haitian population. We will work with Haitians and relief personnel to do everything we can to restore health services and sanitary conditions and help Haiti get back on track."

To assist the recovery effort, PAHO has shipped water treatment supplies and emergency kits with essential drugs and supplies sufficient to treat 10,000 patients. It has mobilized a team of 18 medical and relief experts who are working closely with local health officials, the local and international Red Cross, and agencies such as Doctors Without Borders.

In the neighboring Dominican Republic, a PAHO team is evaluating health conditions and procuring medicines and supplies for some 12,000 people living in emergency shelters following Tropical Storm Jeanne.

In Panama, PAHO disaster experts have been working closely with local health officials and U.N. personnel to carry out on-the-ground assessments of damage from mudslides and flooding triggered by torrential rains last week. Waves as high as 16 feet flooded coastal communities, and poor neighborhoods of eastern Panama City were heavily damaged. At least 10 people were killed and more than 1,405 left homeless. According to the National System of Civil Protection, 12,891 people were affected by the flooding, with 2,744 houses damaged and 281 destroyed.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan earlier this month, damage to water and sanitation systems and large numbers of displaced people created an increased risk of communicable and vector-borne diseases in Barbados, the Cayman Islands, Grenada and Jamaica. PAHO's Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) has coordinated much of the PAHO relief effort in these countries.

In Jamaica, Ivan was responsible for the deaths of at least a dozen people, including several residents of a fishing village who were swept away in a tidal surge. Many health facilities are facing shortages of power, water, supplies and personnel.

Ivan caused major damage to the main health facility on Union Island in the Grenadines.

PAHO staff report that Grenada is still dealing with the aftermath of Ivan, which blasted the island on Sept. 7 with torrential rains and sustained winds of 140 mph. Ivan caused at least 37 deaths, 380 injuries and 42 hospitalizations, according to PAHO reports. Winds blew the roof off a laboratory at St. George's Hospital, and Princess Alice Hospital was left nonfunctioning. In all, some 80 percent of the country's health facilities were damaged by the hurricane.

PAHO has joined with the British aid agency DFID to provide emergency medical supplies to treat 20,000 people. Cases of diarrhea, fever and rashes have been reported at the nearly 140 emergency shelters set up throughout Grenada. PAHO has mobilized a team of doctors and 12 volunteer nurses from the Virgin Islands to make the rounds of emergency shelters and provide medical treatment as needed.

PAHO has also sent in a team of civil and environmental engineers and architects from several member countries to help assess the needs of damaged health facilities. The organization has mobilized financial assistance for the island and established SUMA sites to handle the distribution of aid.

In the Bahamas, where Hurricane Frances destroyed homes and killed at least two people as it swept through the country on Sept. 2, PAHO provided technical support in needs assessment and training and systems development for SUMA. It also procured environmental health supplies and materials to support the country’s vector control efforts.

Throughout the humanitarian emergencies in the Caribbean, PAHO's priorities have included: assessing the health situation in the disasters' aftermath, supporting ministries of health with epidemiological surveys and management of cadavers, coordinating emergency supplies and distribution, restoring health services, and supporting vector control and sanitation efforts.

According to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, the eight tropical cyclones that reached storm strength last month set a new August record, breaking the previous record of seven set in 1933 and 1995. The normal number of tropical storms for one month is four. There have already been four storm-strength North Atlantic cyclones this month.

The Pan American Health Organization is the world's oldest international health agency. It works with its 35 Member States to improve health and quality of life for all the peoples of the Americas.
   



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