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George's LGBTea: HIV Care In Puerto Rico Struggles After Hurricane Maria


Puerto Rico has been unable to shake the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria almost one month ago. The country is still without water or electricity in many places, and the United States’ efforts have been far less than those afforded to Texas and Florida during similar situations this year. However, lost among the headlines is a bigger issue brewing about the healthcare of over 20,000 residents dealing with HIV, and who are unable to get proper meds as clinics work to rebuild following the hurricane.

In a report from Newsweek entitled “Puerto Ricans with HIV and AIDS are suffering in the Aftermath of Hurricane Maria,” the current situation facing those citizens is discussed with the dire need for help in providing medication. Carmen Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, stated that they had stocked up on meds prior to Maria, but quickly ran out of supplies. That quick thinking led to the survival of many who may have died otherwise.

She also told the Washington Blade, “a clinic for adults and children with AIDS opened in San Juan just two weeks after the tempest hit Puerto Rico, but that it still isn’t operating at full capacity. The Puerto Rican government is working with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to identify people with HIV/AIDS and help them with generators ‘in order to keep [them] living with oxygen.’”

Representative Luis Gutierrez from Illinois also commented on the totality of the situation facing Puerto Rico by stating: “There are still babies without formula, and there are still people that don’t have insulin or refrigeration. There’s still people who are dying of AIDS and can’t get to their medicine and there are still hospitals that are going to be on the verge of collapse because they continue to run on generation systems.”

The biggest concern comes from what has happened to the water and land following Hurricane Maria’s devastation. The destruction has caused the rivers to become contaminated with rainwater and human waste. The contaminated water put those with a weakened immune system at risk for complications, especially those with HIV and AIDS who are unable to stay on their treatment during this time.

However, there are things we could be doing to help those in Puerto Rico get the proper treatments that they need. In an article on TheBody.com, it is stated that:

“Given the lethargic and insufficient mobilization of aid from President Trump and Congress, it is up to the American people in general -- and the HIV community specifically -- to answer the bell and provide our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters with the help they so desperately need.

“There are a number of excellent Puerto Rico-based community groups with recovery funds that will make excellent use of your donations, such as Taller Salud, a women's health organization that has set up The Hurricane Maria Community Relief & Recovery Fund, which focuses on providing aid to low-income communities of color. For those who might be short on cash but have useful items such as medical supplies or solar/battery-powered appliances to donate, this exhaustive list of drop-off centers across the country should help.”

It is important that we in the United States begin to understand that Puerto Ricans are Americans, and for that they deserve all the available resources we have to offer them. It goes without saying that we have done a poor job of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, and unfortunately it will cost many lives if we are unable to come together in full support of the island. People are still dying from HIV, and we must work to ensure that proper medication is being provided during recovery from this catastrophic event.