“When our boat pulled up to the shore, you could already tell that the island was devastated,” says Laura Archer, a Canadian Red Cross health specialist deployed to the hurricane-affected island of Barbuda.
“Trees were down, power lines were down, most buildings were missing their roofs, if not completely flattened. The hospital structure is very damaged as well, there is stagnant water all over the place, so there are many things that need to be addressed right away in terms of health.”
Archer travelled to Barbuda as part of a specialist team deployed by the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to support the Antigua and Barbuda Red Cross’ disaster response efforts.
“The immediate health needs on Barbuda are focused on the people who are working there to bring Barbudans back,” she said. “A lot of environmental health teams are coming back to the island and cleaning up the debris, stagnant water and bringing back the essential services. While these people are there, we need to make sure that they have access to a basic level of health care.”
The Canadian Red Cross, in coordination with the Ministry of Health, delivered and set up a pop-up emergency room that can serve two patients at a time and has the necessary basics such as medicine, gauze, resuscitation equipment, and other tools.
In addition, Red Cross volunteers are delivering first aid services in shelters, during relief distributions and other activities that take place on the island. Psychosocial support services will also be provided to people affected by the hurricane, including evacuees from Barbuda and host families.
“In terms of long-term health needs on Barbuda, it’s a lot about bringing back the health programmes that already existed to support the people who will return to the island and make sure that they are going back to a safe community,” adds Archer.
Before hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Red Cross had community-based programming to address issues such as non-communicable diseases and hypertension prevention. Additionally, there is a pre-existing Zika programme that includes vector control activities, which will be essential due to stagnant water left after the passage of the hurricane. These are starting back up on the island of Antigua, and the Red Cross will work to ensure their continuity on Barbuda once the island’s communities return to their homes.