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What we’ve learned in a year: Disaster relief and recovery

Note: This story was originally published by SaportaReport on October 1st, before Hurricane Michael formed.

Just a few days before the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, the Carolinas were struck by Hurricane Florence. Just a few days later super-typhoon Mangkhut devastated the Philippines. The question on my mind as MedShare initiated our disaster relief protocol was, “What have we learned since last year, and how will that change our response?”

The world witnessed some of the most devastating natural disasters in recorded history in 2017. Hurricane Maria was the deadliest Atlantic hurricane in over a decade, leaving thousands dead and millions without clean water and power for months. Hurricane Harvey is tied with Hurricane Katrina as the costliest tropical cyclone on record, having displaced 30,000 people across Texas, Louisiana, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Mudslides in Freetown left 1,141 people dead or missing, making it the worst natural disaster in Sierra Leone’s history. Flooding across South Asia impacted 45 million people. Hurricane Irma caused unprecedented damage to Caribbean islands. The 7.1 magnitude earthquake in central Mexico left 6,000 people injured. The Northern California Wildfires drove 90,000 people from their homes and devastated the landscape.

That’s seven disasters occurring all in the span of seven weeks. The rapid succession of so much devastation changed the way MedShare responds to disasters. Here’s what we learned.

Our first lesson was to think outside the box – literally. Our traditional model of delivering container shipments and airlifting pallets of boxes full of supplies worked well for long-term recovery and rebuilding, but we had to fill the gap for immediate needs. With most ports inaccessible and many roads unable to carry 18-wheelers, we discovered a new avenue of delivery that we never considered before: private planes. To our surprise, multiple members of our local community, including Tyler Perry, donated their private planes for the delivery of supplies. We packed cabins full of medical products, biomedical equipment, and emergency relief supplies. The small planes were able to easily land on cleared runways where larger aircrafts couldn’t reach.

We also learned to focus on marginalized communities in the wake of disaster. Serving people in medically underserved areas is a centerpiece of our global mission, so it follows that we would apply that to our disaster relief strategy. Last year we found that many communities can get lost in the chaos of post-disaster recovery. People experiencing homelessness, the elderly, displaced families, expectant mothers, and rural communities often face the worst devastation following a disaster because they face enormous barriers to care. We have been able to partner with those communities, as well as with local NGO’s serving their specific needs, to ensure that quality medical care reaches the often unreachable.

Finally, we learned the incredible power of partnership. MedShare’s mission has always valued partnerships, but the cooperation and collaboration we witnessed last year was far beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. Partnership was the foundation of the intricate network of donors, healthcare professionals, volunteers, NGOs, and community leaders that allowed us to reach hundreds of thousands of patients recovering from disaster.

These lessons – and many more – have better equipped us to respond to the disasters our neighbors may face in the coming months. While we prepare for future storms, we are continuing our disaster relief efforts, including Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. From donations to support the health of people experiencing homelessness in Hurricane Florence-impacted areas of the Carolinas, to medical mission teams carrying supplies in duffle bags to treat patients in rural areas of Puerto Rico, MedShare continues to respond with empathy and compassion in the face of disaster.

MedShare is dedicated to supporting disaster relief efforts all over the world. Medical mission teams and clinics are encouraged to pick up supplies from MedShare as they provide medical aid to underserved communities suffering after Hurricane Michael, the recent earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Indonesia, Hurricane Florence, Typhoon Mangkhut, Hurricane Maria, and any other natural disaster continuing to impact marginalized communities. To support MedShare's Disaster Relief Fund, please consider donating here.

Charles Redding is president and CEO of MedShare.

This column originally appeared on the SaportaReport.com Thought Leadership column on Global Health. To read more content from these, and other Georgia-based nonprofits, click here.

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