By Marianne E. Zotti, DrPH, MS, FAAN
Consultant, Emergency Preparedness and Response Activity, MANILA Consulting Group, Inc.
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a major disaster that forced the evacuation of New Orleans and affected large areas of other states, especially Mississippi, whose coastal areas received extensive damage as a result of being directly in the path of the storm and subsequent storm surge. Afterward, a small group of New Orleans women who were pregnant or postpartum at the time of the storm described their harrowing experiences when evacuating. Their poignant stories revealed heartbreaking losses of loved ones, a lack of resources care for their families, threats to the safety of themselves and their children, an inability to provide health care for their children, and increased responsibilities for the care of other family members (to learn more, see the reference in the box). The stories of these women give us a partial picture of the types of ordeals that pregnant and postpartum women may experience after a major natural disaster.
The CDC DRH had been active in previous emergency responses, but Hurricane Katrina was a wake-up call. This hurricane and subsequent response revealed that in order to be fully prepared, we needed to know more about
- The potential effects of disasters on women of reproductive age
- The proportion of these women who prepare for disasters
- How to estimate the number of pregnant women in a disaster-affected area
- The sampling approaches that could be used to capture representative information on all disaster-affected women of reproductive age
- What health indicators should be measured for disaster-affected pregnant and postpartum women and infants
To facilitate more efficient post-emergency assessment for women of reproductive age, DRH collaborated with the University of North Carolina Center for Public Health Preparedness to create a ready-to-deploy toolkit with pilot-tested questionnaires (cphp.sph.unc.edu/reproductivehealth/) so that public health partners can quickly assess post-disaster reproductive needs and respond to them.
It often takes a decade after a major disaster for literature that answers critical questions to become available. DRH worked with local, state and federal partners to evaluate what works and what does not when assisting women of reproductive age during a disaster. Our work is still evolving, but we have developed an array of tools for a variety of disasters, including natural disasters, infectious disease outbreaks, and preparedness for an anthrax bioterrorism event. Information about these tools will be shared in the Jun. 16 webinar, but in case you would like to review them beforehand, you can find some of the tools on the DRH Emergency Preparedness and Response website: www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/Emergency/index.htm. Lastly, we are in the process of creating an online training for U.S. public health and health care professionals pertaining to reproductive health and disaster. This training is scheduled to be released in 2016.
We look forward to joining you for the June webinar!