In a Season of Giving, Needed Medicines Reach Still-Recovering Puerto Rico

Medicines bound for the island of Vieques, about 10 miles east of Puerto Rico, are loaded into a helicopter in San Juan on Dec. 19. The medicines were part of a larger 40-ton shipment bound for more than 20 health centers and hospitals across Puerto Rico. (Photo by Donnie Hedden for Direct Relief)

As Puerto Rico celebrates the holidays and looks ahead to a new year, a fresh infusion of medicine arrived Monday – a week before Christmas and three months after Hurricane Maria made landfall.

Over 100 pallets labeled “emergency medical supplies” lined the ABF Freight warehouse in San Juan on Tuesday. Before shipments departed for clinics across the island, health providers and representatives from healthcare companies that donated the medicines and supplies gathered in the storage space.

Health center and medical manufacturer representatives at the ABF warehouse in San Juan share their experiences of Hurricane Maria. (Photo by Alejandro Marin for Direct Relief)

Employees from BD, Eli Lilly, GSK, Merck, Henry Schein, Mylan and Sanofi spoke about the responsibility to step up and support communities in times of need, as their companies had done. 

“We felt that we owed it to the patients to help them in these terrible times,” Eli Lilly’s Marirosa Rosado told the audience.  “We were really proud to help.”

Pharmaceuticals are a main export of Puerto Rico, and many companies have production facilities and offices located across the island. 

Facilities lost power, some were seriously damaged, and all were impacted in some way by Hurricane Maria. 

Employees were no exception.

(Photo by Alejandro Marin for Direct Relief)

Some required assistance themselves in the storm’s immediate aftermath. Others took in relatives or neighbors, volunteered their time, worked overtime – nights and weekends – in harsh conditions, doing whatever they could to help their friends, families, anyone in need.

As they spoke, it was evident that everyone experienced the storm’s impacts on a deeply personal level.

“It’s a very good example of what we can do even in the worst of times,” GSK’s Jose Ramirez said.

The supplies began departing the warehouse Tuesday morning, bound for more than 20 health centers across Puerto Rico.

Direct Relief’s Damon Taugher shows the list of emergency medicines to clinicians at Health ProMed in Vieques. (Photo by Andrew Schoneberger for Direct Relief)

Among the recipients was the Health ProMed clinic in Vieques, an island that was particularly hard-hit by both Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Each day, power extends to more parts of Puerto Rico. But residents of Vieques are still waiting in long lines for gas to run their generators, going more than 100 days without grid electricity.   

Tuesday’s delivery was packed with essential medicines and supplies requested by staff at that location, which is the only health center on the island.

Salud Integral de Montana in Naranjito, located 20 miles southwest of San Juan, was another health center that received a shipment of critical medicines this week. The only health center for miles around, Salud Integral de Montana serves the mountainous communities on the northern slopes of Cordillera Central.

Direct Relief’s Luis David Rodriguez unloads a shipment with Salud Integral de Montana staff on Tuesday. (Photo by Donnie Hedden for Direct Relief)

Each of the other two dozen hospitals and clinics to receive shipments are in similarly precarious positions, post-Maria.  Power is unreliable. Many facilities sustained damage. Health center staff return home after long shifts to many of the same challenges their patients face.

The latest shipment won’t solve all of those problems. But more medicine on pharmacy shelves means clinicians have one less thing to worry about.