FEB 02, 2018 7:19 AM PST

Healthcare For Mothers and Babies After Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico, and that small island is still reeling from the storm. The official death toll is 18, however, because so much of the island remains without power and roads are not fully repaired, that count could be low. One of the biggest problems has, understandably, been health care.

In the first days of the storm and its aftermath, health facilities were hit hard. In an interview in The Atlantic, Carolina Pichardo, a pediatrician working shifts at two hospitals near San Juan, explained that even now, challenges remain, stating, "Many primary-care physicians are unable to provide services at their practice locations, so more and more people are using the emergency rooms for everyday medical problems. This places a larger burden on the emergency rooms and increases wait time among patients. Children have fallen behind on their immunization schedules because either their pediatricians are not currently practicing or they have lost their refrigerated vaccines due to a power outage."

Prenatal care, labor and delivery services and postpartum care are also at a premium. Even before the storm, care for women and babies was not ideal. Puerto Rico has the highest rates of Caesarian section births and the fifth highest number of premature births in the United States. Since the storm, women who are pregnant cannot always be treated at area hospitals, since many facilities have no power or have restricted care to trauma patients for stabilization only and do not have functional operating or delivery rooms.

Home birth presents another set of difficulties because, without access to midwives, nurses or doctors, women are not safe giving birth with no medical supervision. Many homes have no running water or sanitation, and this increases the risk of infection and disease. While some volunteer organizations like Centro MAM provide access to healthcare workers and clean water, the need is almost overwhelming.

FEMA initially sent supplies including diapers and formula; however, with the continued power and water issues, there are gaps in what mothers have access to. Aid from humanitarian organizations is continuing to arrive but cannot always get to those who may need it most. In any natural disaster, the primary goals are to stabilize the area and treat medical emergencies. As time passes, the healthcare needs change to more everyday concerns and maternal, and child health is one of the most pressing of these. Zika could be a factor as well since parts of the island have heavy infestations of mosquitos and without education and prenatal precautions, women are at an increased risk of getting the virus and passing it on to their child.

The video below has more information on how many are coping with pregnancy and newborn care.

Sources: NBC News, Vice News, The Atlantic

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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