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Doctors arrive in Puerto Rico to volunteer in rural areas

By on October 11, 2017

Dr. Ramón Tallaj (Felipe Torres / CB)

SAN JUAN – Dozens of volunteer doctors arrived this week in Puerto Rico to offer health services to vulnerable and bedridden patients in the municipalities of Comerío, Naranjito, Barranquitas, Morovis and Corozal. The effort is part of an initiative from a New York-based nonprofit with some 2,000 doctors.

The arrival of the medical practitioners was made possible thanks to an executive order signed by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, which allows for doctors without a Puerto Rico license to “offer medical services to disadvantaged people in light of the emergency,” as explained by Public Affairs Secretary Ramón Rosario. The official said Executive Order 2017-58 “granted the immunity or protection against legal actions that doctors employed in Puerto Rico have” to professionals who come to provide health services in the wake of the crisis produced by Hurricane María three weeks ago.

Dr. Ramón Tallaj, spokesperson of the group of doctors and a native of the Dominican Republic, said he took the initiative to travel to Puerto Rico after seeing the federal government’s slow response to the emergency, adding that his group is committed to provide resources to the island for a year.

“We expected an immediate response, it being a U.S. territory [but] after seeing how things continued,” they decided to help, Tallaj explained, and “immediately communicated with our contacts…with the community doctors and we learned of the precarious situation, both in those two areas [Naranjito and Comerío] and the neighboring municipalities [Barranquitas, Morovis and Corozal].”

The doctor said Somos will bring to Puerto Rico solar generators, water filters, medicines and fans to distribute to elderly people with delicate conditions who are “in their homes with high temperatures.” He added that the entity brought medicine to treat up to 5,000 in case of a conjunctivitis outbreak.

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Mayor Josean Santiago of Comerío emphasized the urgency of aid reaching where the need is when describing the dismal panorama that residents of the mountainous zone of Puerto Rico are living.

Comerío Mayor Josean Santiago (Felipe Torres/CB)

“[Comerío] is probably one of the municipalities impacted most by this hurricane. I have needs of all kinds and health should certainly be a priority. At this time we face problems with the potable water service, so the the community’s consumption of non-potable water is a concern; the collapse of our sewage system, whereby unprocessed water ends up in the river that many people are using to bathe,” the mayor said.

“We will be identifying the cases that need attention,” Santiago said. “Well, people have their healthcare card, private plan card, but there is no [insurance processing] system at the pharmacies. Sometimes they have serious difficulty providing maintenance medication. Those patients who are on dialysis, those patients who need insulin, those patients who try to see their doctor because with the pressure now, with this anxiety, health conditions become more complicated. They do not have access to their doctors,” he explained

According to the mayor, some 1,500 homes in Comerío “disappeared from the map” and another 2,500 were severely damaged so there are three and four families seeking shelter in the same house. “That upsets emotional health. Thanks for this group [Somos]. I’m sure my people will value its assistance very much and will have all the collaboration,” he added.

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