Health: How are natural disasters affecting the caribbean?
Hurricanes are the perfect setting for the spread of infectious diseases
The season of hurricanes in Central America and the Caribbean is becoming more and more dangerous due to climate change’s impact on the frequency and intensity of tropical storms. In this part of the world, the season starts late May and peaks from August to October leaving a trail of destroyed infrastructure and poor sanitary condition; a perfect atmosphere for the spread of communicable diseases.
Even if scientists are still reluctant to connect climate change to the new intensity of the season, it is true that hurricanes are fueled by warmer water temperatures and 2017 has been the most intense year for tropical storms since 2005. Hurricane Maria’s effects on smaller islands like Martinica and Dominica, were as devastating as the damages produced in Puerto Rico, where millions of dollars are counted in losts and over 55 people died.
Nevertheless, this year’s season has not been the only one to leave negative repercussions in the Caribbean. Hurricane Matthew in 2016 had major consequences for nations like Haiti, where remote areas of the country were virtually inaccessible and over 800 haitians lost their lives. Hurricane’s effect on poorer populations are devastating, as their capacity of response and reconstruction is much lower.
In terms of health, natural disasters like hurricanes are the perfect setting for the spread of infectious diseases. Intense rain, floods, and the stagnation of water generates an idoneous environment for the development of illnesses related to water contamination. In fact, Hurricane Matthew provoked a new outbreak of cholera in Haiti back in October 2016, as the transmission of the disease happened from both exposure to contaminated water and from person-to-person transmission. The fact that the population is internally displaced and forced to stay in temporary shelters where WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) conditions are not fully met, increases the possibility of contracting these type of infectious diseases.
Vector transmitted diseases: the fear of mosquitoes
Moreover, the outbreak of some vector transmitted diseases can be connected to tropical storms. For instance, diseases such as dengue can spread during hurricane season, as stagnated water and water storage containers are ideal for the reproduction of infected mosquitoes (vectors). Dengue, a disease that is already a major concern in Central America and the Caribbean, had to be monitored by PAHO in both Haiti and Dominican Republic, as an increase of cases was recognized weeks after Hurricane Matthew.
In Puerto Rico, this year, local authorities recognized a public health crisis after Hurricane Maria, as not only stagnated water was connected to the proliferation of infected mosquitoes, but it was also connected to stomach problems, as the population started consuming contaminated water. Insufficient drinking water supply led to the exposure of individuals to contaminated wells and a higher level of diarrheal and dehydration symptoms.
It should also be mentioned that the effect of hurricanes on medicine supply; they can negatively impact the availability and security of vaccines and prescription drugs for patients with non-communicable diseases. Drugs that require refrigeration and a specific cold chain have to be carefully handled during hurricanes, as power cuts and energy shutdowns are a major problem during natural disasters, and the security of the medicines cannot be fully guaranteed.
Latin American Post | Laura Delgado
Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto