When looking back on the top news stories of 2017, one that certainly rises to the top is the record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season. Who can forget the series of hurricanes in late August and September that wreaked destruction on portions of the continental United States and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). Today, Texas and Florida are making significant progress in their recovery efforts, while the devastating damage in Puerto Rico and USVI is taking longer to overcome.
Though hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria passed quickly, their aftereffects persist. In addition to lives lost and those forever changed, the storms rendered a gut-wrenching blow to infrastructure, from damaged water treatment plants to electrical grids to communications systems to hospitals and public health systems.
Of course, infrastructure damages have ripple effects. For example, there is the toll on peoples’ health from a lack of power or clean water as well as the challenges infrastructure damages present in carrying out public health programs to prevent illness and disease. That’s where the expertise of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the support of the CDC Foundation and its donors and partners come into play.
Following the storms, CDC and the CDC Foundation have worked with departments of health in the states and territories to meet certain immediate needs where federal funding is not available as well as discuss longer-term solutions to address public health infrastructure challenges.
“What many people don’t realize is that in crisis situations CDC may not initially have access to all the government funding needed for response activities or may be limited in how we can spend funds,” said Dale Rose, CDC’s incident manager for the 2017 hurricane response. “This is where CDC Foundation support can be critical.”
For the hurricane response efforts, the CDC Foundation has raised support through generous donations from individuals, corporations and philanthropies (see the list below), with lead gifts from Amgen Foundation, Kaiser Permanente and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In addition, other organizations provided much-needed in-kind support for mosquito protection, including large donations of mosquito wipes from SC Johnson and dunks from Summit Chemical.
Early in the response, the CDC Foundation purchased and sent supplies, such as food, batteries and generators, to assist CDC staff in Puerto Rico so that they could help stabilize their own situations and then aid in the response.
“The news reports have shown a lot of the truth about what is happening here, but I feel like what is missing is that people are still very hopeful, positive and are helping each other as much as they can,” according to Sue Ramos-Diaz, public health educator in CDC’s Dengue Branch. “Among all the misery that has happened, there are still people looking out for others.”
In the continental United States, one example of CDC Foundation support is the purchase of supplies for mold prevention kits, which include tips for treating and preventing mold growth, bleach, respirators, goggles, rubber gloves and other materials. While supplies for initial kits have been shipped and assembled in Port Arthur, TX, other communities in the state are also expressing an interest.
Beyond immediate response efforts, support is also needed to carry out public health protection programs and strengthen systems. In Puerto Rico, for instance, many health clinics experienced considerable damage, hospitals suffered from power losses and Puerto Rico’s main public health lab was destroyed.
“After the hurricanes, there was significant damage to the Puerto Rico Department of Health, which prevented their lab from shipping specimens or conducting testing,” said Jennifer Concepcion Acevedo, who is co-leading the laboratory team as part of the Infectious Disease and Countermeasures Task Force at CDC. “To assist and restore some of the clinical testing on the island, we started developing a specimen transfer system to get specimens to CDC for confirmatory testing.”
The CDC Foundation covered these costs and to date has shipped more than 1,300 lab samples from Puerto Rico to CDC for testing of dangerous diseases like tuberculosis, influenza and leptospirosis. Additional lab support that will aid in systems strengthening is also moving forward with the Puerto Rico Department of Health, including the purchase of lab equipment, supplies and reagents.
Health communications have also been a challenge, and the CDC Foundation has supported several communications efforts in USVI. These include the large-scale printing of materials to educate people about how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, get emergency prescription assistance, deal with dangerous mold and more.
And the CDC Foundation is in discussions to assist both territories in additional ways.
None of us will soon forget the damage our neighbors in the southern United States and U.S. territories are facing, but we also must remember there’s much work left to do. For that reason, it is critical for us to all work together to meet the needs of our fellow citizens, particularly those in Puerto Rico and USVI.
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