Impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on Puerto Rico Maternal and Child Health Research Programs
Puerto Rico was hit by two major hurricanes in September 2017 causing great devastation, losing over 90% of the power grid, wireless communication and access to potable water, and destroying many homes. Our research programs: Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT), Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development in Puerto Rico (CRECE), Zika in Infants and Pregnancy (ZIP), and Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) are ongoing observational cohort studies that have been investigating environmental risk factors for perinatal health outcomes among Puerto Rican mothers and infants. Our projects paused operations for about two weeks, to begin recovery process and become a source of assistance, retaining 95% of study participants across all research programs. We joined with various groups to ensure the safety and welfare of team members, study participants, community health center partners, and members of the surrounding communities. We learned important lessons about the impact of these hurricanes and the difficulties of the recovery. Major challenges post-hurricanes were access to care and nutrition, maternal stress, and environmental damage. We understood the need to integrate disaster preparedness into our programs’ operating procedures and future applications, recognizing that these events will recur. We will grow resilience among our staff, maternal and child health partners, and participants by building on the experience of these two storms.
KeywordsMaternal and child health Natural disaster response Hurricane Puerto Rico Disaster preparedness
The hurricane relief efforts conducted in collaboration with PROTECT/CRECE/ECHO/ZIP would not have been possible without the tireless work of countless individuals dedicating countless hours to relief effort. In addition to the long list of individuals, we would like specifically recognize the following organizations: The Ricky Martin Foundation provided travel coordination for the distribution of mobile health clinics. Vestergaard Frandsen, Aquamundo and the Kumpimayo Foundation, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits in Puerto Rico) and Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola, and Rotary International all contributed significantly to the acquisition and distributions of water purification systems to areas of need. Through its local chapter, the March of Dimes donated Zika kits including insect repellents, mosquito nets, and other items to be distributed to pregnant women. San Juan Health ProMed Community Health Center has donated generators to our own PROTECT/CRECE/ZIP clinic in Manatí, Puerto Rico. We would like to also recognize Dean and Marty Rutherford, and Barbara and Harold Gottschalk for significant individual contributions and the Lukas Fund for managing other individual contributions. The work conducted under PROTECT, ZIP, CRECE, and ECHO studies was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health (Grants P42ES017198, P50ES026049, UG3OD023251, R21MD013709, and R21ES029751), and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (award number U54 MD007600).
All authors contributed extensively to the work presented in this paper including substantial contribution to the design/concept presented, analysis, and interpretation. All authors have been involved in crafting and editing drafts, have approved the final submitted version, and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.
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