Since it first touched land at 6:10 am on August 29th,1 Hurricane Katrina has affected the lives of those living in Louisiana and Mississippi, forcing thousands to seek refuge at facilities in the surrounding states. The need for reproductive health care continues to be essential in such a time of national emergency. State and national sexual and reproductive health organizations are sending relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
“In the rush to escape Hurricane Katrina, many people probably didn't have time to grab the bare necessities,” said Jenny Black, Planned Parenthood New Mexico's Senior Vice President of Patient Services and Operations,2 including prescription medications and contraceptives. Organizations throughout the U.S. are making efforts to meet victims' needs for sexual and reproductive health services, which have been disrupted by damaged and closed buildings, faltering municipal infrastructures, and personal losses. For example, Planned Parenthood state affiliates in Tennessee, New Mexico, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Illinois, Texas, and Florida have pledged to donate one month's worth of family planning and reproductive health services, such as contraceptive and emergency contraceptive prescriptions, STD testing and treatment, HIV testing, and gynecological exams, to hurricane victims in the affected areas.
A doctor in an Arkansas clinic also reported performing abortions free of charge to women victims of the Hurricane. According to an Associated Press article from September 28, Dr Jerry Edwards of Little Rock Family Planning performed at least six abortions on pregnant women from the affected areas, saying “if we didn't provide it now, they would get it later – a late-term abortion that would give greater risk to the mother's health."3 A spokesperson from Arkansas-Oklahoma Planned Parenthood commented on the instances, stating, “Edwards is doing a humanitarian relief service in his field.”
People living with HIV/AIDS living in the devastated region also risk disruption of medical treatment, counseling services, and other necessary care, but organizations and government agencies are rushing to meet their needs. Federally funded health centers in Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida are treating patients with HIV/AIDS who have been displaced.4 For example, AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs) in Texas are disbursing treatment medications free of charge to hurricane victims living with HIV/AIDS. To help with the costs, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) has asked the eight pharmaceutical companies that manufacture these drugs to reimburse the centers in the form of in-kind contributions. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, some have responded positively, and others have contributed to organizations such as the American Red Cross.5
In addition, the Illinois Department of Public Health has directed some state funds to ADAP service providers to treat hurricane victims seeking refuge in the state. Illinois's ADAP administrator, Nancy Abraham, has instructed AIDS service providers and case managers in how to help HIV-positive evacuees and has approved treatment to undocumented patients for up to ninety days.6
The organization AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth, and Families, a national HIV/AIDS advocacy organization based in Washington, DC, launched the Katrina AIDS Alliance Emergency Fund on August 31 st to help patients affected by the disaster access HIV/AIDS treatment services. Diana Bruce, Manager of Government Affairs for AIDS Alliance, explained, “it became clear that more people needed to become involved. We are not exempt because we live in Washington, DC.”
AIDS Alliance works to provide families affected by HIV/AIDS treatment and services so as to better cope with the disease. At AIDS Alliance, “the client is the family,” says Bruce, and AIDS Alliance works to answer the question, “how do we keep this family healthy?” AIDS Alliance works with a network of providers including local hospitals, teen outreach and education groups, and social services to achieve this goal.
The organization's work in the affected area maintains this holistic focus. AIDS Alliance distributes donations from the Katrina Emergency Fund to Ryan White CARE Act Title IV grantee clinics to provide food, medication, clothing, diapers and toiletries, gas/transportation to services, and housing for people living with HIV/AIDS who have been affected by Katrina.7 So far, AIDS Alliance has distributed funds to three service providers in Baton Rouge, LA, Hattiesburg, MS, and Pine Bluff, AK. Bruce calls the Fund a success, stating, “we are linking people up with care.”
- Hurricane Katrina , Wikipedia (20 September 2005), accessed 16 September 2005, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Katrina >.
- Martha Edmands, Planned Parenthood Will Assist Hurricane Victims in New Mexico , Planned Parenthood Federation of America (8 September 2005), accessed 16 September 2005, <www.plannedparenthood.org>.
- Doctor Offers Free Abortions to Hurricane Victims , Associated Press, (28 September 2005), accessed 13 October 2005, <www.infowars.com>
- Update on HRSA Actions in Areas Affected by Hurricane Katrina:HIV/AIDS , Health Resources and Services Administration, (13 September 2005), accessed 16 September 2005, <www.hrsa.gov>.
- Gary Barlow, Illinois Extends ADAP to Katrina Evacuees, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (14 September 2005), Accessed 16 September 2005, <www.cdcnpin.org>.
- Katrina AIDS Alliance Emergency Fund , AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth, and Families, accessed 19 September 2005, <www.aids-alliance.org>.