Op Ed: Among Relief Efforts, Puerto Ricans Need Sexual and Reproductive Health Care

By Dr. Luz Towns-Miranda, psychologist, psychoanalyst, and member of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund Board

 

My family, for the last 55 days, has been involved in relief efforts for my beloved island of Puerto Rico, still reeling from the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The Hispanic Federation, an organization co-founded by my husband 27 years ago, has done a lot of to raise funds, provide relief efforts, and support nonprofit organizations on the island

But still over half of Puerto Rico’s families remain without power and are facing enormous hardships. So many are struggling to meet their basic needs -- food, water, and shelter. And access to health care has been eviscerated, with many hospitals and health centers not operating at full capacity or not operating at all.
 
We know that in times of natural disaster, the likelihood for injury and illness is high, particularly when the health care delivery systrm is severely negatively impacted. It should be no surprise that one of the first things to be overlooked in disaster relief efforts is access to sexual and reproductive health care. As families' homes have been destroyed, birth control pills are long lost or left behind, leading to unintended pregnancies; access to emergency contraception is needed but nowhere to be found; pregnant women may be forced to go without prenatal care; and the risk of STI transmission increases.
 
It is our collective responsibility to do everything we can to help our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico. My son, Lin-Manuel, wrote a song, “Almost Like Praying,” to raise funds for Hispanic Federation efforts on the island. I am proud to be working with Planned Parenthood to ensure that access to vital sexual and reproductive health care services doesn't fall through the cracks.
 
As recovery efforts continue, Planned Parenthood recognizes how vital access to reproductive health care can be in times of crisis, and is proud to be stepping in to provide basic reproductive health care services to the many Puerto Ricans climate change refugees who have been displaced to nearby Florida.
 
Planned Parenthood’s Florida affiliates -- Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida (PPSENFL) and Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida (PPSWCF) --  have launched their Emergency Hurricane Fund, a grant program that will provide testing and treatment for infections such as UTIs, STIs, and yeast infections, a three month supply of birth control or one Depo injection, and emergency contraception at no cost in 21 Planned Parenthood health centers across Florida.
 
Members of our extended Planned Parenthood family at the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF WHR) are also stepping up in this time of need. Despite being impacted by the hurricane directly, IPPF’s member association in Puerto Rico, Profamilias, is doing everything possible to re-open their doors, scrambling generators and participating in mobile health brigades to reach communities in need. They’re delivering key services like contraception, mammograms, HIV tests, and gender-based violence counseling. Despite the extremely difficult circumstances, like impassable roads and regular blackouts, Profamilias continues to serve the community desperately in need.
 
Like the old saying goes, “Sin la salud, no hay nada.” Without their health and the basic ability to control their own bodies, Puerto Ricans will not be able to flourish and rebuild. We have a long road to recovery ahead. I am proud that Planned Parenthood, and IPPF are working hard on Puerto Rico’s behalf, I want the women of Puerto Rico to know that their access to sexual and reproductive health care will not be forgotten.