364 — Mortality in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Kishore et al (10.1056/NEJMsa1803972)

Read on 19 August 2018
#hurricane  #disaster  #disaster-relief  #Puerto-Rico  #natural-disaster  #public-health  #mortality  #climate  #climate-change  #infrastructure  #society  #health 

This is a really incredible paper both because of its contents but also because of the speed with which it was published: Hurricane Maria took place in late 2017, and now — less than a year later — the authors have released an enormous study and survey spanning thousands of households. And — in particular, they publicly published their data for study on GitHub.

The team surveyed just under 3300 households, with just under 10,000 (consented) individuals total. They asked questions in order to better understand the impact of the hurricane: Were you displaced during the disaster? 268 of the surveyed individuals left home. More than 5% of the surveyed individuals had moved into the surveyed household due to the hurricane. Did you lose access to electricity, telephone, or water? For how long? On average, individuals went without access to running water for 68 days.

From this information, paired with geographic and demographic information, the authors were able to better extrapolate a true mortality rate during and following the hurricane. They estimate a death count of approximately 4645 individuals due to causes surrounding the hurricane and aftermath.

The official government-provided death count is 64.

This work emphasizes the importance of understanding public health (and statistics!) in order to better provide disaster relief to affected individuals, and improve our response and prevention practices with the increasing number of natural disasters.