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New study says nearly 3,000 deaths In Puerto Rico were caused by Hurricane Maria

From WN

A new independent survey says the people killed by Hurricane Maria is likely to be 46.5 times the government’s death toll estimate of 64 with their newest estimate linking 2,975 deaths to the destructive storm from September 2017 through February 2018, according to CBS News.

The independent analysis released on Tuesday was commissioned by the governor of Puerto Rico and conducted by researchers at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health said those in low-income areas and elderly men were at the greatest risk of dying from the natural disaster and the delayed response from the Trump administration.

CBS News obtained a report discussing the findings of the study from Carlos Mercader, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.

The researchers studied historic death patterns from 2010 to 2017 to determine an estimate of how many people would have died if Hurricane Maria did not hit Puerto Rico before using that figure to compare the actual number of deaths from September 2017 through February 2018 by using records provided by the Puerto Rico Vital Statistics Records division of the Puerto Rico Department of Health.

The report said their 2,975 figure is an “estimate of excess mortality due to the hurricane.”

Even though all age and social status groups were affected by the hurricane, the researchers said the risk of death was “45% higher and persistent until the end of the study period for populations living in low socioeconomic development municipalities.”

It also said men aged 65 or older were at heightened risk of death through the end of the study period in February 2018.

“Overall, we estimate that 40% of municipalities experienced significantly higher mortality in the study period than in the comparable period of the previous two years,” the report says.

Puerto Rico’s government initially reported 64 deaths due to the hurricane, but several studies have emerged to claim that figure is far too low, even though a number of reports vary widely on the number of the deceased.

“The official government estimate of 64 deaths from the hurricane is low primarily because the conventions used for causal attribution only allowed for classification of deaths attributable directly to the storm, e.g., those caused by structural collapse, flying debris, floods and drownings,” the report says. “During our broader study, we found that many physicians were not oriented in the appropriate certification protocol. This translated into an inadequate indicator for monitoring mortality in the hurricane’s aftermath.”

The report also said the official death toll was low due to “physician unawareness of appropriate death certification practices after a natural disaster and the Government of Puerto Rico’s lack of communication about death certificate reporting prior to the 2017 hurricane season substantially limited the count of deaths related to Maria.”

The report said even though physicians and forensic physicians are authorized to complete death certificates, most have no formal training concerning the issue so they were unaware of the “appropriate death certification practices, especially in a disaster setting.”

“Those interviewed said they did not receive information about how to certify deaths during, or in conditions created by, a disaster,” the report says.

Researchers used data from a door-to-door survey of 3,299 randomly selected homes on Puerto Rico to determine that figure.

Another report from Puerto Rico sent to Congress in early August said the there were 1,427 more deaths “than normal” in the four months following Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma.

But the government report said those deaths “may or may not be attributable to the hurricanes.”

The latest study said the deaths from that range, September to December 2017, had an excess of 2,098 deaths.

The report also said there were communication issues between the Puerto Rico Vital Statistics Registry and other government agencies with those involved in the death certification and registration process.

“Many stated that the Puerto Rico Department of Health (DoH) and the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety (DPS) did not notify them about the CDC special guidelines for correct documentation of cases, on the importance of correctly documenting deaths related to the hurricane or on an emergency protocol for handling these cases,” it says., Maureen Foody

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