Carolina Moreno / Huffington Post – 2018-05-31 00:56:20
Harvard Study On Puerto Rico Is Devastating For
More Reasons Than The Alarmingly High Death Toll
Carolina Moreno / Huffington Post
(May 29, 2018) — Puerto Rico’s death toll in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is estimated to be almost 5,000, according to a Harvard study published Tuesday. Data from this large-scale survey also revealed some sobering information about what life has been like for those trying to manage their health on the island in the wake of the storm.
The study, which surveyed 3,299 randomly chosen households in Puerto Rico over three weeks, found that from Sept. 20 to Dec. 31, 2017, at least 4,645 people died in connection to the storm. The government’s death toll is 64.
Dr. Satchit Balsari, one of the researchers for the study, explained the importance of having an accurate death count not only because of its financial ramifications but also because it gives families a sense of closure. “It’s important to acknowledge what happened and why they lost their family members,” he told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday.
Researchers calculated this new alarmingly high death toll and gathered facts about causes of death, displacement and infrastructure loss in the months after the storm. The information paints a distressing picture of the sort of challenges that millions of Puerto Ricans faced after Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in September of last year.
The study’s numbers aligned with previous media reports and analyses that the death toll was likely in the thousands. The researchers’ findings are dismaying but, unfortunately, are surprising only in their magnitude.
The aftermath of the storm was deadlier than its landfall
The survey found that the significant increase in deaths in the months after Hurricane Maria was mainly a result of interruption of medical care, with about one-third of households reporting such issues — including accessing medications (14.4 percent), being unable to use respiratory equipment because of a lack of electricity (9.5 percent), having no open medical facilities nearby (8.6 percent) or having no doctors at medical facilities (6.1 percent).
Nearly 9 percent of households in remote areas said they were unable to reach 911 services by phone.
Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University in New York, said he knows the numerous health struggles people face after a disaster.
“I think people gravitate towards how many people were killed immediately from drowning or falling debris,” he said. “But the reality is, the much, much bigger problem is the long-term inability to get to medical care or the inability to get the medical devices or medication that people need to survive — so, people who are dependent on electrical-powered medical devices like ventilators or who need their medication every single day so their diabetes or high blood pressure doesn’t get out of control.”
The average household went over
2 months without power and water
After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s decades-old power grid was devastated, leaving millions of residents in the dark. For months, access to drinking water and plumbing was compromised by a lack of electricity — conditions that prompted health concerns over bacterial disease outbreaks, among other fears.
A lack of power can be dangerous for people with chronic conditions who rely on electrically powered medical devices or must have a functioning refrigerator to store medicines such as insulin.
And the Harvard study found that, on average, households went 84 days without electricity and 68 days without water. Many respondents were still without power at the time the survey was conducted, from Jan. 17 to Feb. 24 this year.
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