June 1 marks the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season. Though the season traditionally lasts from June to November, scientists warn that storms are more likely to develop in the off-season due to climate change. Hurricanes are powerful storms that bring forceful winds and heavy rainfall to cities and towns across the coastal Southeastern United States, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. As we approach the start of the 2021 hurricane season, it is of utmost importance that people living with HIV living in hurricane-prone areas of the United States prepare to deal with upcoming disasters.
Though hurricanes have the potential to negatively affect all sectors of society, marginalized populations are more susceptible to being impacted by a storm. This is because hurricanes exacerbate existing socioeconomic inequalities and health care disparities.
People living with or vulnerable to HIV face unique challenges when it comes to hurricane preparedness and recovery — and they must be prioritized as a key population in disaster readiness. Many people living with HIV lack access to stable housing, food and health care, which makes them unable to adequately prepare for and eventually ride out an oncoming storm. Barriers to transportation make it difficult for communities to properly evacuate or access storm shelters. Should a person living with HIV successfully evacuate, they might face challenges dealing with HIV-related stigma or discrimination. Lastly, hurricanes make it difficult for people living with HIV to keep up with adherence to antiretroviral therapies and other medications crucial to their health. This is because storms might make it impossible for people to access their medical appointments, damage healthcare facilities or make it difficult for people to find private spaces to take their medications.
These challenges are exacerbated by the despair, frustration and pain that follows a natural disaster. Given that there is overlap between hurricane occurrences and rates of HIV prevalence in the United States, according to a study published by the Department of Health and Human Services, it is important that people living with HIV are prepared for oncoming storms and included in hurricane readiness and recovery planning.
With hurricane season just around the corner, AIDS United recommends taking the following actions to make sure that you are prepared for an oncoming storm:
- Talk to your local AIDS Service Organization (ASO) about methods of dealing with a storm. This includes evacuation plans and community resources, such as shelters and food banks.
- Keep up with official updates regarding an oncoming storm. Use your mobile phone and a radio to listen to the news. Make sure that you have backup power sources, such as a portable phone charger or batteries, to continue listening to updates in the event of a power or telecommunications outage.
- Should you choose to ride out the storm, cover your windows and store any outside furniture indoors. Make sure you have enough food and potable water to last multiple days. Fill up your bathtub with water before the storm to use for drinking, washing or flushing the toilet should you experience a power outage.
- If you live in an evacuation zone, create an evacuation plan. A successful evacuation plan should identify a destination outside of the evacuation zone, multiple evacuation routes and a supply kit that includes a change of clothes, non-perishable food items and a change of clothes.
- Reach out to your health care provider about receiving a 30 or 90-day prescription medication refill.
- Get a waterproof pill box in order to store medication in the event of intense flooding or rainfall. A bill pox will allow you to discreetly take medication if you are displaced or left in a hostile environment after the storm.
- Keep a copy of your ID, insurance card, pharmacy contact information and medication history/schedule in a waterproof location, such as a zip-close bag.