Tegucigalpa/Washington, D.C (November 13, 2020) - The number of COVID-19 infections in the aftermath of Hurricane Eta in Honduras has increased with more than 2100 new cases and 68 deaths recorded over the last 7 days. Cases are likely to rise even more as testing has increased in the aftermath of Hurricane Eta and as COVID-19 potentially spreads among displaced populations, warns Project HOPE. Immediate action to address personal safety and public health protections are of urgent importance, with aid prioritizing frontline local health workers. “Hundreds of families affected by the hurricane are crammed into temporary shelters without masks to protect themselves, unable to keep physical distance, and without access to water to wash their hands,” says Tom Cotter, Director of Emergency Response and Preparedness at Project HOPE. “Collective shelters could become a breeding ground for a rapid spread of the virus, increasing vulnerability among a population already affected by natural disasters and the devastating effects of climate change.” As of November 9th, the Minister of Health of Honduras reported a 33 percent positivity rate in the shelters of the capital Tegucigalpa.
Temporary collective shelters – mostly schools, churches, and other public buildings – are overcrowded and lack resources for water, sanitation and hygiene services. A lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and inadequate safety protocols have also been reported by Project HOPE’s emergency response team in Honduras.
Working with national authorities and partners in Honduras, Project HOPE’s emergency response team has begun delivering 200,000 surgical and KN95 masks for health care workers and vulnerable populations in shelters. Project HOPE is also preparing to deploy regional clinicians for surge capacity staffing and to develop other interventions to support local health systems.
As the response transitions to recovery efforts, Project HOPE will provide key emergency health training to frontline health care workers focusing on mental health resilience and COVID-19 treatment in the country.
With stagnant water and flooded areas, COVID-19 is not the only infectious disease to be worried about. “The risk of water and vectorborne disease outbreaks of dengue, zika, malaria, cholera, and chikungunya is very high,” Cotter says. Cases of acute diarrhea, fungal infections, and influenza have already been reported in shelters.
While accurate information on specific health needs is still lacking as many areas remain inaccessible due to blocked roads and damaged infrastructure, damages to health centers are likely to limit access to vital services, including maternal, neonatal, and child health care. In Cortés, the hardest-hit department of Honduras, most health facilities have been closed. Overall, at least 16 hospitals sustained moderate to minor damage infrastructure, with flooded rooms and collapsed walls at some facilities.
According to Honduras’ Ministry of Health, a significant number of health care workers and their families have been affected by the rains and are staying in shelters. With approximately 30 percent of health care personnel affected by Eta, the provision of health services has shrunk in affected areas. The Ministry of Health already estimates the health infrastructure damage, including damage to the cold chain, at USD 7 million. “While we continue to assess the damage and collect key information on needs, it’s crucial to ensure the continuation of adequate care for at-risk populations, such as children under five years old, pregnant women, and the older adult population with chronic diseases,” added Cotter.
In neighboring Nicaragua, Project HOPE is coordinating with local humanitarian actors to provide assistance through PPE donations and COVID-19 training curriculums.
Facts and Figures
• Hurricane Eta made landfall as a Category 4 Hurricane in Nicaragua on November 3, 2020
• Hurricane Eta weakened to a tropical storm and hit Honduras on November 4, 2020
• 1.8 million people have been affected by Hurricane Eta in Honduras
• 16 departments were affected by Hurricane Eta in Honduras
• According to the Ministry of Health, there are 365 official shelters around Honduras with 37,549 people in the shelters (11/11/2020)
• The airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s second largest city by population, was reported to be completely flooded.
• More than 34,000 people were evacuated in Honduras and Nicaragua
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About Project HOPE
Project HOPE operates around the world wherever the need is greatest, working side-by-side with health care workers and their communities, addressing the greatest public health challenges to enable people to live their best lives. We respond to disasters and health crises and stay on in communities long after disaster strikes to help find solutions to epidemics and any other neglected health needs. More: Hurricane Eta: How Project HOPE is responding