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JUN08

Harvard Study puts Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Death Toll in the Thousands

Last week, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study made headlines by estimating the actual number of deaths in Puerto Rico associated with Hurricane Maria as 4,645. While the official government count, which only includes deaths directly attributable to the storm itself, is just 64 the Harvard study estimated that anywhere between 793 and 8,498 deaths (4,645 is the median between these two figures) were likely caused by the storm, mostly due to delayed medical care stemming from the slow recovery response.

 

While the potential range may be wide, there is additional evidence that the botched response to Maria did lead to large numbers of potentially avoidable deaths, and these other estimates do fall within the range identified by the Harvard researchers. University of Puerto Rico statistician Roberto Rivera, along with colleague Wolfgang Rolke published an analysis in February concluding that in the first six weeks after Hurricane Maria, the death count was between 605 and 1,039. Other researchers have also estimated a death toll in the ballpark of 1,000, including the New York Times. Months ago, the government in Puerto Rico commissioned a study to examine the death toll by the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. That study is ongoing.

 

Either way, one thing is certain. Hundreds, and potentially thousands of Puerto Ricans died -- many unnecessarily -- because of a lack of preparedness and a lack of urgency in our nation's response to the island's crisis. And while we don’t have specific figures on the number of these deaths related to delayed care involve HIV, we know that Puerto Rico was already struggling to keep up with the need for HIV services before the hurricane. The island has over 20,000 people living with HIV, placing it squarely in the top 10 U.S. states and territories for total HIV cases.  Puerto Rico fares even worse in health outcomes, with the highest HIV death rate in the country. In that environment, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which major interruptions to medical supply chains and service provision wouldn’t devastate residents living with HIV.

 

We reached out to AIDS United partners working on the island, Anselmo Fonseca and Rosaura López-Fontánez to get their take on these new figures and to give us an update on what they’re seeing on the ground.  Here’s what we heard back:

 
Recognizing that [Hurricane] Maria was an unprecedented natural disaster, the local, state, and federal governments all share equal negligence for the loss of human life and perpetuated devastation. This was criminal!

- Anselmo Fonseca, President, Pacientes de SIDA pro Política Sana; Chair, Cero VIH Puerto Rico; Ryan White Part-B Community Co-Chair (San Juan, PR)

Hurricane Maria not only devastated our country, she demonstrated to the world and ourselves that our island is a territory controlled by the United States, that has always looked at us with indifferences, with disrespect and consideration at every level.  The survey accomplished by [Harvard]  University…demonstrates a reality that the government of Puerto Rico at 9 months of the passing of Maria continues avoiding.  Hurricane season began on June 1st, and with it, families continue without electricity and a roof over their heads, people living in their vehicles, unattended by the local and federal agencies called to ensure their social welfare… finally they have left us with no hope.

I ask myself: Where are the people that govern my country?  To whose interest do they respond? Why and what are the reasons for their continued indifferences? Puerto Rico continues in national mourning.


- Rosaura López-Fontánez, MSW/LCSW, Executive Director Puerto Rico CoNCRA




Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department - Friday, June 08, 2018



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