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IDSA & HIVMA Call for Aid in Hurricane-Stricken Puerto Rico & US Virgin Islands

OCT 12, 2017 | KRISTI ROSA
As hurricanes continue to ravage the world, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) have issued a joint statement calling for aid to provide an effective response and avert resulting public health crises in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

In their statement, IDSA president Paul Auwaerter, MD, FIDSA, and HIVMA chair Melanie Thompson, MD, expressed particular concern for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma. And rightly so, as most of Puerto Rico still does not have power 3 weeks after Hurricane Maria. According to CNN, “the death toll from the storm has risen to 45,” with about 113 individuals “unaccounted for.”

Not only has the hurricane irreparably damaged individuals’ lives, it also wiped out “the only tropical rain forest in the United States forest system,” according to a recent article put out by The New York Times. The staggering 28,000-acre rainforest comprised upwards of 240 different species of trees, “23 of which are found nowhere else.” What was once a home to over 50 different bird species is now “completely defoliated.” Not only that, but about 20% of the drinkable water supply in Puerto Rico come from 8 rivers within this ecosystem, begging the question—will the ecosystem be able to recover enough that residents can still use this as a source for their municipal water systems?

Another concerning issue is the potential for increased incidence of infectious diseases which has IDSA and HIVMA particularly troubled. Risks include any and all of the following, according to their statement:
  • Exposures to water-borne pathogens
  • The spread of infections in crowded shelters
  • Food-borne illnesses
  • Mosquito-borne infections
  • Mold-related illnesses
Ensuring that individuals with HIV and tuberculosis have access to their medications “is also critical to preventing treatment disruptions that increase patients’ risk of serious illness, disease progression, and to avoid the emergence of drug-resistance or transmission of these infections,” they write. Unfortunately, as health officials struggle with antimicrobial shortages in areas that have been hit particularly hard, they are also bracing themselves for potential infectious disease outbreaks.

In order to provide adequate infection control, access to clean drinking water and “safe food” is critical; sanitation is also imperative. However, an adequate response effort will be costly, and thus, IDSA and HIVMA reps stress that investments in infection control should be made now.

The Trump administration has requested $29 billion in funds to go towards disaster relief, according to the statement. Drs. Auwaerter and Thompson urge Congress to “act swiftly, at a minimum to approve this level of much-needed support.” IDSA and HIVMA want to use this emergency funding to “acquire essential medicines and fundamental health care supplies.” In addition, they also call for extra help in “rebuilding critical health infrastructures” in areas that have been hit particularly hard by the storm.

“IDSA and HIVMA members on the frontlines of the hurricane response know that the cost of inaction will far exceed the investments we should be making now,” they conclude. “We advocate for urgent attention to the ongoing medical needs and the prevention efforts required to minimize the health effects of the hurricanes affecting US citizens in these profoundly affected devastated areas.”
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