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Hurricane season for the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans officially ended last week, bringing to a close the six-month window when storms are most likely to form.
Each year, before storm season begins on June 1, Direct Relief assembles and stages large caches of emergency medical supplies and collaborates with national health care and emergency response authorities in countries located in storm-prone regions.
Prior to the 2023 hurricane season, Direct Relief strategically placed emergency medical supplies in every Southeastern and Gulf Coast state of the United States, from Virginia to Texas, along with several locations throughout the Caribbean and Central America.
These hurricane preparedness packs contain the most commonly required medical supplies during and after a disaster, including trauma supplies, wound care supplies, and antibiotics. Additionally, they also contain medications for conditions like diabetes, hypertension, respiratory problems, psychological issues, and gastrointestinal problems.
This season, Direct Relief responded to the health needs that arose after three major storms, namely Hurricane Hilary, Hurricane Idalia, and Hurricane Otis. Direct Relief is currently continuing its response to these storms.
Hurricane Hilary formed on August 16, off the western coast of Mexico, and quickly grew into a Category 4 storm. It later weakened into a tropical storm before making landfall in Baja California. This was the first tropical storm to enter California since 1997. It continued to cause flooding as it moved across the southwestern United States and eventually dissipated over the Rocky Mountains.
Direct Relief took proactive measures before Hurricane Hilary made landfall by communicating with state and local organizations in Mexico to identify potential medical needs. Prior to the storm, Direct Relief supplied 18 emergency medical backpacks to the State of Baja, California, to equip first responders with medical essentials for triage care outside of clinic walls.
After the hurricane, Direct Relief sent additional medical support to the State of Baja California Sur, including ten emergency medical backpacks and an emergency health kit containing essential medicines and supplies usually requested after disasters.
These supplies were sent to Fundacion Astra in Baja California Sur, a non-profit organization that provides acute and preventive health services to vulnerable populations such as mothers and children, at-risk youth, injured and chronically ill people, and older adults.
Direct Relief was established as a Civil Association in Mexico in 2014 and has been an authorized donee since 2015. It is the only humanitarian wholesale distributor of pharmaceuticals in Mexico that fully complies with COFEPRIS regulations. This means Direct Relief can receive and process donated goods, and it’s well-positioned to respond to both immediate public health requirements and long-term healthcare service needs in underserved communities.
Hurricane Idalia began as a tropical depression in the Caribbean and eventually made landfall at Keaton Beach on Florida’s northern gulf coast, specifically in the Big Bend region, on August 30. This was the first major hurricane on record to hit this part of the Big Bend, and it caused significant damage to trees and structures across multiple counties. The hurricane brought winds of up to 125 mph and a storm surge of seven to 12 feet.
In preparation for Hurricane Idalia, Direct Relief had positioned 14 hurricane preparedness modules across Florida. Each module contained enough medical supplies to treat 100 patients for various conditions such as trauma injuries and chronic illnesses for a 72-hour period. The caches were strategically placed in secure locations near vulnerable areas, with seven of them located within the path of Hurricane Idalia.
After the storm, Direct Relief coordinated with the Florida Association of Community Health Centers and the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics to provide more than one ton of requested medications and medical supplies, including insulin, wound care items, vitamins, and antibiotics, to healthcare facilities in these associations’ networks across Florida.
In North Miami, Mercy Mobile Clinic Provides Care Amid Chaos
One organization that provided crucial care in the aftermath of the hurricane was the North Miami Beach Medical Center. The center has been offering on-site medical assistance to victims of disasters since 2004 through its mobile health unit, which was purchased with the help of Direct Relief. When Hurricane Idalia struck their community in August, the center immediately sprang into action, providing healthcare services to the injured and those who had lost their medications and medical supplies in the storm, within the shelter setting.
People staying at the shelter reported multiple medical needs, including coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, asthma and Parkinson’s disease. There were also those with injuries, including people experiencing homelessness, older adults and young children, who were treated. Two medical team members also went to those living in damaged homes to help and encourage them to come out to the shelter.
During the storm, some people with behavioral health conditions lost access to their required treatments. The Mercy Mobile team provided prescriptions and arranged for medications to be delivered to the shelter.
In the subsequent days, clinic staff treated approximately 150 patients.
Hurricane Otis, a Category 5 storm—the strongest hurricane to hit Mexico’s Pacific Coast in recorded history—made landfall in Acapulco, Mexico, on Oct. 25, 2023, killing dozens with more still missing.
Property damage from the storm is also extensive. Otis damaged 80% of the hotel infrastructure and 96% of businesses in a city that lives mostly from tourism. More than a month after the storm, business owners and employees are still clearing debris and rubble from the streets.
Direct Relief and FedEx collaborated to pre-position three emergency health kits in Chilpancingo Guerrero, Mexico ahead of Hurricane Otis. Additionally, Direct Relief provided 53 field medic packs, containing medical essentials for providing care outside of clinic walls to health providers on the ground.
After the storm, Direct Relief immediately pledged $200,000 to support medical care providers on the ground. The organization also dispatched additional supplies to assist first responders in search and rescue operations and to help healthcare professionals in the aftermath of the hurricane.
Among the groups that received support from Direct Relief was Medical Impact, which was granted an emergency operating fund of $25,000. The group sent 12 doctors to Acapulco to provide medical aid in the affected area. The medical providers were equipped with field medic packs and an emergency health kit from Direct Relief, which included essential medical supplies commonly requested during disaster situations.
During the first week of November, Direct Relief coordinated the delivery of 20,000 liters of diesel to power the backup generators at Acapulco’s general hospital. The hospital was running out of fuel and required the generators to keep functioning. To help prevent the spread of disease, Direct Relief also delivered 100,000 units of hand sanitizer to the regional ministry of health. These units were then distributed to affected communities. Direct Relief is continuing to receive requests and assess needs, and more donations are forthcoming.