Group notes devastating impact on Latinos, the population LOUD serves, and urges continued—and stepped up—response by government, NGOs and others
LOS ANGELES (June 7, 2018) The 2018 hurricane season officially began in Puerto Rico on June 1, only nine months after hurricane Maria devastated the entire island, destroying its entire infrastructure with an estimate of more than $100 billion dollars in damages and thousands of human casualties. Although the official figures from the island’s government on lives lost have been set at 64, a Harvard study just released found that the number of deaths related to the hurricane has reached 4,645.
The response from government agencies in deploying assistance to communities in need has been dismal, coupled with a total inefficiency from insurance companies to process claims in a timely manner.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) was one of the immediate first responders to this catastrophe sending a number of chartered cargo planes with generators, food, and drinking water, which were distributed to not-for-profit agencies to help them continue providing social and medical care. In addition, AHF created an advocacy and fundraising campaign, #Power2PR, where it raised funds for disaster relief and support of community organizations. The Latino Outreach and Understanding Division (LOUD), an affinity group of AHF, just held its annual retreat in San Juan in order to contribute to the economy and also to assess the state of HIV/AIDS services in the island.
While in Puerto Rico—a territorial island of the United States whose inhabitants are U.S. citizens—LOUD visited Casa Ismael, an AIDS hospice organization located in Toa Baja. Casa Ismael currently houses and cares for 14 residents in spite of the absence of FEMA assistance, unpaid insurance claims, and the threat of non-insurance renewal. “At this rate I doubt that any organization can sustain its services should another storm hit Puerto Rico”, said Rosa E. Martínez Colón, Co-Chair of LOUD.
The Harvard study shows that most of the unaccounted deaths were the result of interrupted medical services following Hurricane Maria. “Acknowledgement by the government of these deaths matters,” pointed out Patricia Bermudez, Co-Chair of LOUD. “People need to mourn their loved ones. Every life lost has a name to it and a family who remembers,” she concluded.
“As FEMA and other government agencies and officials now prepare for the 2018 hurricane season in the Caribbean and along the Atlantic Coast, we urge Congress not to forget the vast amount of work still to be done in helping Puerto Rico continue its recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Maria,” added Dr. William Arroyo, LOUD and AHF Board member.
AHF and LOUD reaffirms their commitment to continue providing assistance and support to the residents of the island, especially those impacted by chronic conditions such as HIV/AIDS.