One Year Later: Remembering Those Impacted by Last Year’s Hurricanes

Within the past week, Hurricane Florence caused incredible damage in the Carolinas. While response is essential to help our neighbors there, it’s important to remember that recovery can take months, even years. A year ago, in fact, citizens in the continental United States and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) endured the destructive forces caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. 

The devastation caused by these storms changed lives forever. From lives lost to record infrastructure damages, the 2017 hurricane season will be felt for years to come. While much progress has been made to get affected communities up and running, the job is not over and more work remains to assist our friends and fellow U.S. citizens in USVI and Puerto Rico. I’m pleased that our organization, the CDC Foundation, remains engaged in both territories’ recovery.

Following the 2017 hurricanes, the CDC Foundation served as an integral partner to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Puerto Rico Department of Health (PRDH) and USVI Department of Health (VIDOH) in implementing response and recovery activities aimed at shoring up and restarting critical public health infrastructure. Donor support helped to advance a wide range of essential work, including:

  • Implementing a territory-wide vaccination campaign in Puerto Rico where more than 110,000 people received a vaccine to prevent diseases such as influenza, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis and hepatitis A and B;
  • Supporting over 300 displaced individuals from USVI who sought medical treatment in the Southeastern United States by addressing requests for air travel support, over the counter medicine and transportation to treatment;
  • Restoring partial lab capacity at PRDH by shipping over 3,200 lab specimens to CDC for confirmatory testing for Salmonella, Leptospirosis, tuberculosis and influenza and replacing critical lab equipment and supplies destroyed by the hurricanes;
  • Enhancing post-storm health risk communications in USVI with printed materials and radio PSAs to inform the public on potential health risks;
  • Enabling short-term staffing  solutions for health departments in both territories, and
  • Providing donated insect repellent to help protect residents of these territories from potential mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya.

And work is still underway. With health clinics damaged or destroyed, there has become a greater need for the departments of health in each territory to reach their citizens with life-saving medical interventions. To aid in this regard, the CDC Foundation is supporting the assembly of a mobile health clinic in USVI that the department can use to ensure medicines and care can be delivered to hard-to-reach populations.

Although time has passed, it’s important on this anniversary to keep those impacted by last year’s hurricanes in your thoughts. We are grateful to those who contributed to our Emergency Response Fund, which helps support CDC’s efforts during crisis situations, and we are now working to raise support to protect the people recovering from Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas. Please join with us.

Turquoise Sidibe, MPH, is the emergency response director for the CDC Foundation.