Speaking to Granma International, Lázara Hernández Arias and Nayari Corrales Medina stated that they “never felt scared” as Hurricane Irma made its way along Cuba’s northern coastline.
At that time, both were at a medical facility in Havana, with their sons Leovany and César, respectively.
The two women noted how thankful they were to staff at the William Soler Pediatric Cardiology Hospital, for the care they received during those difficult hours of strong winds and persistent rain. Lázara and Nayari explained that the ward remained lit and the television on to receive information; food and medicines were distributed as usual, while the director of the hospital also made several visits.
Ward nurse María Isabel Rodríguez Miranda, worked a double shift, as her colleague was unable to make it to the hospital given the weather situation. For over 24 hours María cared for and reassured patients and their families.
“Luckily the building didn’t suffer any major damage, and we all awoke on September 10 anxious to get back to normal as quickly as possible,” she stated.
This has been the number one aim of healthcare workers across Cuba, who provided medical services in difficult conditions, which resulted in damage to 785 facilities, 62 of which were hospitals, 116 polyclinics ,and 314 local doctors’ offices, among others.
Partial damage to roofs, broken windows, and fallen trees constituted the main damages caused by the storm.
In this regard Dr. José Ernesto Betancourt Lavastida, director of the Ministry of Public Health’s (Minsap) Defense and Civil Defense departments, stated that given the proximity of the dangerous hurricane a series of measures were taken, above all to protect the lives of patients, staff, and family members.
Steps were also taken to protect material resources and supplies, to ensure that all healthcare institutions were ready to support the post-hurricane recovery efforts currently underway.
“Pregnant women living in vulnerable zones and those likely to be affected were evacuated. Patients in hospitals at risk of flooding, such as the Hermanos Ameijeiras and América Arias, were transferred. Those in need of dialysis continued to receive treatment in sheltered facilities close to hospital establishments. Given the possibility of a breakdown in lines of communication, 76 clinical-surgical brigades were mobilized and deployed in communities located in remote or hard-to-reach areas, in order provide medical attention during and after the hurricane,” he stated.
Likewise, medical institutions such as doctor’s offices, polyclinics, opticians, nursing and maternity homes, located in buildings deemed unfit to withstand the hurricane, were relocated. Some 240 pharmacies were relocated to temporary premises belonging to state agencies and in local homes, in order to protect one hundred percent of their stock. Medical care was organized in all evacuation centers and thousands of health workers, including doctors, nurses, and hygiene and epidemiology technicians, worked uninterruptedly alongside Red Cross brigades to provide care to the evacuated population.
Now in the recovery phase, hygiene and sanitary measures are being implemented, and the population has been called on to pay the utmost attention to guidelines issued to prevent the outbreak of disease, Betancourt Lavastida assured.
Yanaris López Almaguer, Minsap Environmental Health director, confirmed that to date no outbreaks of any type of communicable disease, due to contaminated food or water, have been reported in the country. “If a suspected case were to appear, isolation would be carried out in the centers created for this purpose,” she noted.
During this recovery stage, cisterns, wells, and tanks are being cleaned and water chlorified. In addition, there is specialized monitoring at key points of the water distribution network, to ensure required quality, among other measures.
López Almaguer explained: “We will continue to undertake educational action through the media and personal intercommunication activities. Our family doctors will hold talks at sites where the population is concentrated, not only within health institutions but also in morning meetings in workplaces and student centers, explaining how to maintain hygienic measures to avoid the onset of gastrointestinal diseases.”
She also urged all Cubans to join the sanitation efforts inside and outside their homes, as help collecting debris, fallen trees, cleaning yards, streets and gardens is required, to eradicate vectors such as rats, insects, and mosquitoes.
According to the specialist, despite the magnitude of the hurricane, the joint efforts of health workers and the population in general was demonstrated, as evidenced in the reigning sense of calm. Even in those places without power and water, no cases of leptospirosis, outbreaks of diarrhea, or respiratory diseases were reported.
Medical students and those studying specialties aided these efforts, carrying out door-to-door surveys, inquiring as to the presence of any symptoms, and speaking to families about the measures they should take to stay healthy.
Jorge González Pérez, Minsap Teaching director, explained that in the 13 medical universities of the country, classes will be gradually resumed according to the situation in each territory. Meanwhile, students are undertaking social work within local communities.
VITAL SERVICES RESTORED
Minsap leaders emphasized that immediate priorities for institutions and staff across the country are the gradual reestablishment of services in polyclinics and hospital damaged by the hurricane, and the intensification of hygienic and sanitary efforts.
Granma International visited the Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital located on Havana's waterfront, seriously affected by flooding. Dr. Rigoberto García Gómez, deputy director of Teaching and Research, explained, "We implemented a plan designed for this type of disaster and safeguarded all the equipment, but the flooding caused by the hurricane surpassed expectations."
To recover, help was first sought from the Firefighters Command to extract water from the basement and central cistern, then the entire staff assumed the clean-up of all areas to prepare for the resumption of services as quickly as possible.
A similar effort was mounted at Salvador Allende Hospital, in the Havana municipality of Cerro, a complex with several pavilions and 430 beds, 180 of which are for patents in serious condition.
Dr. Mery Torres La Era, deputy director of Medical Assistance, indicated that the principal cause of damage was falling trees, which downed utility lines and banks of electrical transformers.
To provide services during and after Irma, an emergency system of six fuel oil generators was activated to provide electricity. However, even after the national electric grid was restored, a ward serving chronic kidney disease patients remained without power, as a result of a damaged transformer.
These individuals were therefore transferred to another hospital, but thanks to a quick response, power was restored shortly in this vital area.
Dr. Torres reported that the institution's 1,780 workers stayed on the job before the hurricane struck, and were focused on the return to normality, saying, "I thank all the state institutions which supported us during these difficult days, because we know that almost the entire country is immersed in addressing damage similar to ours."
Reinold García Moreiro, director of Public Health in the province of La Habana, reported that all measures projected in plans for this kind of disaster were adopted in the capital's healthcare centers, thus avoiding greater damage and allowing services to be quickly reestablished in unaffected facilities, adding, "We have quantified the damages, and already estimated the economic expenses. Material resources available have been assigned to resolve problems."
The main impact, he said, was concentrated in five municipalities of the capital: Plaza, Playa, Centro Habana, La Habana del Este and La Habana Vieja; while some 367 city blocks were seriously impacted, mainly by coastal flooding. Now, he emphasized, work must focus on ensuring hygiene in conjunction with authorities and the population, to avoid epidemiological problems.