While much of the focus of Hurricane Dorian’s aftermath is rightly centering on the economic toll of the storm, we as a nation must be careful not to minimize the impact on the primary wealth of Abaco and Grand Bahama, which is the health of those on the country’s second and third largest population centers.
Dorian brought catastrophic material damage and it also brought with it a level of mass trauma the likes of which was not previously experienced by most Bahamians.
This trauma has an impact on mental and physical health that has critical implications for the overall stability and redevelopment of Abaco and Grand Bahama and by extension, The Bahamas.
It is in the national interest that adequate resources are directed to the preservation and management of the health of storm victims, because the potential for rebuilding strong communities and economies on both islands is directly tied to the physical and mental wellbeing of Bahamians and residents.
In the aftermath of natural disasters, those with chronic conditions are especially at risk. This is due to resulting interruptions in their essential routine of daily medications, regular clinic visits and the use of medical equipment.
The consequences of this are further exacerbated by the fact that most Bahamians suffer from at least one chronic illness requiring medical management.
Those with heart disease can be at increased risk of heart attack or stroke triggered by the stress of post-storm conditions. Stress can cause increases in blood pressure, as can the lack of sleep — a common condition of those suffering displacement and the loss of loved ones, homes and livelihoods.
Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and those with diabetes are at increased risk of infection — a potential that was heightened by exposure to flood waters and continues as residents suffer wounds and other injuries maneuvering through damaged properties and debris.
For those on medically restricted diets, access to the right kinds of foods can be a challenge in an environment where one has little-to-no-choice in the kinds of meals available.
Many who were forced to flee their homes ripped apart by flood and wind damage would have lost medications and may not have the funds to fill new prescriptions or might be reluctant to spend what little they have on medications when other needs they view as more critical are before them.
This is serious for those under the care of a physician for psychotic illnesses where interruptions in courses of medication can trigger phases making the individual a danger to oneself or to others.
Meantime, pregnant women who experience disruptions in regular prenatal screenings and who at the same time are under increased stress, can experience risks to the health of mother and baby.
We are advised that recognizing the impact of the disaster on patient care in Abaco and Grand Bahama, the Ministry of Health is facilitating a transition to home care for individuals on both islands, thereby making medical management more accessible by taking it into communities.
In addition to medical interventions on the part of the state and NGOs, there are things that we as a society can do to support the wellbeing of storm survivors, not the least of which is increasing our overall sensitivity to their plight.
As a society, we should be careful of the statements we make on social media and elsewhere about those who have come through the trauma of Dorian, as depression and thoughts of suicide are common in those who would have suffered tremendous loss.
We should seek to be empathetic and patient with storm survivors who are understandably on edge about their current state and about prospects for the future.
And we must not seek to silence the concerns of Abaconians and Grand Bahamians in an attempt to protect elected officials we view as politically vulnerable post-Dorian.