Health Wise
June 5, 2018
Watch your health during a hurricane

Last year, I was deployed to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) as part of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Agency (CDEMA) Rapid Needs Assessment Team (RNAT), following the passage of Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 hurricane that caused widespread damage on the island.

During this mission, I got to see first-hand the damage that the health sector sustained. However, most importantly, I was able to interact and to speak with persons directly impacted by the hurricane.

Many persons with whom I spoke were thankful that they are alive, despite losing their homes and other valuables. “Thank God for life” was the line that was echoed, as I went through the various communities. It is known that during hurricanes lives can be lost and people can be severely injured.

It is important that you heed all the warnings and take all measures to prevent being harmed during the hurricane. The hurricane winds can cause flying objects to come your way. Flood waters and storm surges can also pose danger to life.

If you live in areas that are at risk, you should evacuate to safe areas when instructed to do so. Remember the most valuable thing that you can lose is your life.

Hurricanes put stress on persons. You may lose loved ones, animals and property. You may be impacted by the magnitude of damage around you. This can cause pain and worry. You may need psychosocial support. Talk with someone and seek care if you think that you are shaken up by the storm.

During hurricanes, health facilities can be damaged. This causes the disruption of health care services. It may take days or even weeks before the health sector is reorganized and so accessing care may be difficult.

If you suffer from chronic diseases, ensure that you have a list of the medications that you take and ensure that you store your medications in a Ziploc plastic bag to prevent them from getting wet. If you have to be evacuated, take your medication. Remember that just one day without your medication can worsen your condition.

During a disaster, water supply may be disrupted, or may become contaminated. Ensure that you have sufficient clean drinking water to last you for a few days. The safest water may be bottled water. If you do not have access to bottled water, make sure that you boil the water before consuming it.

Electricity may be disrupted and so you may not be able to boil the water. There are other ways of purifying your water, such as using bleach or water purification tablets. Remember that you must be hydrated.

Sometimes you may have to be in a shelter and be living with scarce resources. Maintaining proper hygiene and sanitary conditions are important. Ensure that sewage is disposed of properly.

When preparing food, adhere to hygienic practices, such as washing your hands and using clean utensils. You do not want to be dealing with an outbreak of gastroenteritis after a natural disaster.

Remember to be prepared and adhere to all warnings.

Dr Rosmond Adams, MD is a medical doctor and a public health specialist. He is also an ethicist with training in research ethics and medical ethics. He is the head of Health Information, Communicable Disease and Emergency Response at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).

He is also a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Coordination Mechanism (GCM) on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

(The views expressed here are not written on behalf of CARPHA nor the WHO)