The Washington, D.C.-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says that “all hands (and paws) are on deck” in relief efforts in wake of the ravages caused by Hurricane Dorian.
Ever since the hurricane’s onslaught, PAHO said on Tuesday that it has been working alongside the Ministry of Health in the Bahamas in coordinating disaster-relief efforts by partners and agencies from all over the world “to help the people of the Bahamas access the care they need.”
PAHO has been speaking with some of the people involved in the relief efforts.
Dr. Kaleem Malik, medical lead for Humanity First disaster response, said that when his team arrived in Coopers Town (Abaco), “we found this clinic to be absolutely destroyed — the patient rooms, the lobbies, the wards.
“The ceilings were down, insulation was down, water damage. The smell was unbearable,” he said.
PAHO said Dr. Malik is one of 12 people from the US and Canada sent by Humanity First to support the Bahamas in ensuring medical care to the population affected by Hurricane Dorian.
Humanity First is one of the seven Emergency Medical Teams (EMTs) deployed to Abaco and Grand Bahama Islands, the islands most hit by the Category 5 hurricane.
“This is coordinated by the Ministry of Health and PAHO to ensure that partners are sent to where they are needed the most and have all the equipment they require to operate,” PAHO said.
“The local nurse here had done a tremendous job but was absolutely exhausted,” PAHO quoted Dr. Malik as saying. “We have no power, no electricity, no running water, no Wi-Fi. But we immediately began looking at how to rebuild and make this clinic functional again.”
Since the hurricane struck, PAHO said Dr. Malik and the team from Humanity First, as well as local clinic staff, have worked around the clock to create a sterile field, so that the Coopers Town clinic can continue to receive patients — from 15 to over 20 per day.
“We have some critical patients,” Dr. Malik said. “We had to evacuate a patient earlier today. When he came in, his blood pressure and vitals were very unstable, but fortunately, the coastguard were here within an hour and a half and airlifted him to Nassau (The Bahamas capital).
“Mostly, we are seeing minor wounds, acute exacerbations of chronic illnesses, which we are able to manage with medication,” he added, stating that there has been an increase in upper respiratory infections, “and a lot of skin infections and dermatitis due to people touching the debris outside.
“I was supposed to leave this morning, but it is impossible for me to go,” Dr. Malik continued. “They have adopted us here, taken us in like a family, and we have come to know one another. As well as working with the local staff, even the neighbors are coming to help and support us with what we need. It has been a very touching experience.”
Major Denis Borst, from the Dutch military forces, said they were already in the Caribbean on training in St. Maarten when they received a call from the Prime Minister of the Bahamas to request support, “so a decision was made to support The Bahamas, provide aid and send us in this direction.”
PAHO said the military forces are working with it and the Bahamas Ministry of Health as part of an emergency coordination center, “where all international organizations, non-government organizations, and government organizations of The Bahamas sit together to coordinate emergency response.”
“We’ve got engineer capability, including heavy vehicles which are able to clear debris from critical infrastructure, as well as medical expertise to help the local government provide medical support to the local population,” PAHO quoted Major Borst as saying.
The Dutch ship, which has brought Dutch, French and German troops to The Bahamas to assist with post-disaster relief, also has helicopters and landing craft to help with relief efforts, according to PAHO.
“The local medical facility (in Marsh Harbor) had some issues with people that weren’t able to get the medical attention they needed, so our helicopters were able to transport them by air to another medical facility, which was good,” Major Borst said.
Last Thursday, the Dutch military, in coordination with PAHO and the Bahamian Ministry of Health, evacuated an eight-month pregnant woman who needed specialist medical care.
PAHO said the Dutch military is also working to repair damage to infrastructure in clinics and have erected two tents in Marsh Harbor Port, which are being used as a logistics center for the World Food Program.
It said government partners in Hurricane Dorian disaster relief also include the four-legged variety.
The dog, Charlie, is part of a 13-person team of firefighters and volunteers from British Colombia, Canada, that are based at the Marsh Harbor Healthcare Centre since the Saturday after the hurricane, PAHO said.
It said Charlie is one of four dogs that has been helping with search and rescue efforts in Abaco — primarily focused on finding people that may be injured under the rubble.
While carrying out his job, PAHO said Charlie sustained a slight injury to one of his paws, that has been treated.
“Despite his injury, Charlie was very keen to get back to rescue efforts as soon as possible and is now back to working at full capacity,” PAHO said, adding that Charlie “is, indeed, a very good boy.”
PAHO said it has established a special Bahamas Health Relief Fund to receive “unrestricted and unearmarked” funds from donors who would like to support the Ministry of Health of The Bahamas in its relief and response efforts.