Emergency Response to the Mexico Earthquakes

by International Medical Corps
Emergency Response to the Mexico Earthquakes
Psychosocial support session
Psychosocial support session

On September 7, 2017, an 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck off of the southern coast of Mexico. It was the strongest earthquake recorded in the country in more than a century, with the vast majority of the damage and loss of life occurring in Oaxaca and Chiapas States. Just 12 days later, on September 19, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck central Mexico, near the city of Puebla. Together, these catastrophic earthquakes caused 465 deaths, left 6,300 injured, and damaged 184,000 homes, 175 health facilities and 16,000 schools.

In response, International Medical Corps deployed an emergency response team to provide needed care to those affected by the quakes. Our teams focused on addressing the gaps in mental health and psychosocial support in Oaxaca and rebuilding damaged health structures in Puebla:

Addressing Mental Health and Psychosocial Support: Many earthquake-affected populations already lacked community-based mental health services; once the quakes hit, this need was further exacerbated as individuals dealt with prevalent feelings of grief, helplessness, loss and fear. To meet these needs, International Medical Corps worked with local organizations to provide training and address the distress many earthquake survivors endured, reaching approximately 1,900 individuals with psychosocial support. Together, we provided activities including psychosocial awareness and pyscho-education workshops for students, teachers and parents with the goal of enabling them to better understand and cope with disaster. We also provided support sessions where individuals—including a psychosocial professional—who experienced similar events met together to discuss and overcome emotional pain.

Rebuilding Health Structures: In Chietla, a municipality in Puebla, the September earthquakes damaged approximately 75% of Casas de Salud, critical facilities designed to specifically provide healthcare services in remote communities. Even before the quakes, though, many of these health structures were under-resourced. International Medical Corps worked with local partners to identify Casas de Salud most in need of support. Our teams took into account their level of damage, feasibility for repair and total population served. Together, we rebuilt six Casas de Salud which serve more than 34,000 people. For many individuals in a community, the Casa de Salud is the only immediate health service available to them and can service the vast majority of routine health needs, free of charge.

“The Casa de Salud is fundamental, it provides preventative and extensive services; and now with this new Casa de Salud I will do my job with even more determination,” Cristina, a community health worker in Chietla stated regarding the rebuilt health structure.

We thank the GlobalGiving community for your continued support as we built back better following the earthquakes in Mexico. As our recovery programs in Mexico come to a close, please visit our Emergency Response to the Ebola Outbreak in DRC at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/emergency-response-to-ebola-in-the-democratic-repu/ to keep supporting our efforts.

Rebuilt Casa de Salud
Rebuilt Casa de Salud
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September 2017 Mexico Earthquakes
September 2017 Mexico Earthquakes

With 175 health facilities damaged by the two earthquakes that struck Mexico in September 2017, International Medical Corps is prioritizing the rebuilding of health structures in the quake-affected state of Puebla. Before the second earthquake on September 19, 30% of individuals in the state already lacked access to health services, with only one health worker for every 700 people; the earthquake only further compounded this need for health care.

Based on assessments and meetings with local authorities, our teams have targeted Chietla, a municipality of Puebla, which suffered significant damage in the earthquake. Together with local partner Instituto de Estudios Superiores A.C. (IES), an affiliate of the Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla, we are rebuilding six health structures known as Casas de Salud, benefitting a population of more than 18,000 people. Our team is rebuilding these health structures with sustainable materials and utilizing local and traditional construction methodologies with the community’s involvement to promote long-term development.

Regarding their future impact, Josh Balser from our emergency response team notes, “For many community members the Casas de Salud cover 90% of their regular health needs. It has been over a year since these facilities have been out of operation or limited as a result of the damage. Restoring these Casas will revive community health activities in these six localities and reestablish critical emergency health infrastructure wiped out by the earthquake.”

For the majority of the community, the Casa de Salud is the only immediate health service available to them and can meet the vast majority of routine health needs, free of charge.

Casas de Salud primarily serve children under five, pregnant women, and new mothers. Within one month, Community Health Workers will reach between 60 to 500 patients depending on the size of the community they serve.

Each Casa de Salud’s trained Community Health Worker provides preventive health care, including family planning, vaccinations, environmental health education and disease surveillance, in addition to delivering first aid and infection control for minor wounds. These health workers can also detect the symptoms and give treatment for respiratory diseases, diarrheal diseases, and diabetes, and, when higher medical attention is required, transfer or refer patients to the nearest health center.

We thank you and the GlobalGiving community as we continue to build back better in Mexico.

Damage from the earthquakes
Damage from the earthquakes
Rendering of a future Casa de Salud
Rendering of a future Casa de Salud
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Demonstration on how to comfort disaster survivors
Demonstration on how to comfort disaster survivors

As responders raced to dig through the rubble of the September 2017 earthquakes in Mexico and treat the injured, a new challenge emerged as the dust began to settle—ensuring the mental health of the earthquake’s survivors. Thousands of individuals lost loved ones, experienced severe distress, and feared for their lives during the earthquakes, and with aftershocks tormenting communities for weeks after the initial disaster, many were left in a constant state of fear, anxiety and sadness.

While the National Institute of Psychiatry Ramón de la Fuente Muñiz in Mexico City and other partners provided over 52,000 psychological consultations to survivors in the first month after the earthquakes, many communities, especially in rural parts of the country, had little or no access to mental health or psychosocial support. Others simply lacked the knowledge or the resources to seek out the care they needed.

During International Medical Corps’ assessment in Oaxaca—one of Mexico’s poorest and hardest hit states—families reported that they were continuing to experience intense feelings of fear, nervousness, sadness and disturbances in their daily functioning in December, nearly four months after the earthquake.

“Since September 7, it has not stopped shaking” one community member told us. “We live in a state of psychosis now.”

To help ensure that vulnerable communities in Oaxaca have access to the mental health and psychosocial support they need, both today, and in preparation for future disasters, International Medical Corps partnered with a local organization to train 44 health providers, community leaders, and local key actors in Psychological First Aid. A proven approach to reducing the distress caused by crisis, Psychological First Aid helps children, adolescents, adults, and families cope with disaster through practical care and support, such as comforting individuals to help them feel calm, and connecting people with appropriate social support and services.

Due to the lack of available mental health services in Oaxaca, training local leaders in Psychological First Aid is a crucial step towards ensuring that local communities can be their own first responders in future disasters. Out of the 11 major municipalities in the state, two have no mental health professionals of any kind, and three only have access to psychologists with limited practical experience who come during their training rotations to work in health centers for a year. The only psychiatrist in the State is located in Oaxaca City, which can be as far as a seven-hour drive from some communities.

To reinforce this Psychological First Aid training, we worked with our local partner to raise awareness in Oaxacan communities on resilience mechanisms and the services and support available to survivors, reaching 454 adults and 532 school children. Moving forward, International Medical Corps is continuing to address the mental health needs of communities in Oaxaca by launching a Youth Empowerment Program to promote the resilience of adolescents, strengthening mental health referral mechanisms, providing psychosocial support to survivors, and more.

We thank the GlobalGiving community for their support of International Medical Corps as we continue to support the recovery and mental health of survivors of the September 2017 Mexico earthquakes.

Psychological First Aid training in Niltepec
Psychological First Aid training in Niltepec
Psychosocial awareness at a school in Tehuantepec
Psychosocial awareness at a school in Tehuantepec
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Our team speaks with survivors in southern Oaxaca
Our team speaks with survivors in southern Oaxaca

Following an earthquake, aftershocks can torment communities for weeks after the initial impact, continuing to destroy buildings and homes, disrupting everyday life, and leaving many people living in a constant state of fear. After the September 7, 2017 earthquake in Chiapas Mexico, there were 3,831 of them.

While the majority of these aftershocks were small tremors, they refused to let grieving communities rest and recover, sometimes sending individuals running out into the streets from their homes in the middle of the night in fear. For those battling anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress after the initial earthquake, the aftershocks only provoked more pain, and the constant swaying of power lines left many wondering when the shaking would ever stop.

To meet the mental health needs of the earthquake’s survivors, International Medical Corps deployed emergency response teams to Mexico and partnered with a local organization, Fundación Origen, that provides mental health and psychosocial support in Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s hardest hit and poorest states. With the lack of available specialized and non-specialized community-based mental health services in Oaxaca, International Medical Corps worked with Fundación Origen to meet the immediate mental health needs of Oaxacan communities and to build the capacity of their staff to ensure that they have the skills to respond to future emergencies.

Established in 1999, Fundación Origen provides comprehensive development and empowerment programs for women and children through six community centers in four states in Mexico, including psychological and legal counseling, skills-training workshops, and psychosocial support services. As a measure of the mental health needs after the earthquake, Fundación Origen’s hotline serving women in need of psychological, legal or medical assistance received more than 4,000 calls in one week, compared to their normal rate of around 1,500 per week.

As a part of our support, International Medical Corps trained 13 Fundación Origen staff members in psychosocial support and community mobilization techniques, psycho-education, community awareness techniques, and providing Psychological First Aid within the community in the aftermath of an emergency. In turn, Fundación Origen has provided over 40 health care providers and community leaders in Oaxaca with Psychological First Aid training. In addition, Fundación Origen provided 155 children with psychosocial support through art-based activities encouraging emotional expression, and 52 school teachers with psychosocial support activities focused on the management of stress.

Moving forward, International Medical Corps is continuing to support Fundación Origen to help ensure that communities in Oaxaca have access to mental health services and are better prepared to meet to the psychosocial needs of survivors of future disasters. Through our support, Fundación Origen plans to conduct community mental health awareness sessions with 200 people and provide additional psychosocial support activities to improve coping strategies and social cohesion in vulnerable communities.

We thank the GlobalGiving family for their support as we work to reach vulnerable survivors of the September 2017 earthquakes in Mexico with mental health and psychosocial support.

Inside a training for Fundacion Origen staff
Inside a training for Fundacion Origen staff
Damage from the September 7 earthquake in Ixtepec
Damage from the September 7 earthquake in Ixtepec
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Our team speaks with survivors in Ixtepec, Oaxaca
Our team speaks with survivors in Ixtepec, Oaxaca

On September 7at 11:49pm, an 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck of the southern coast of Mexico, killing 98 people, damaging 41,000 homes, and affecting approximately 1.5 million individuals. It was the strongest earthquake recorded in the country in over a century, with the vast majority of the damage and loss of life occurring in the southwestern Oaxaca and Chiapas States— two of the poorest States in Mexico. Just 12 days later, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck central Mexico near the city of Puebla, causing the collapse of more than 40 buildings, leading to the death of 370 people and injuring over 6,000 more.

International Medical Corps deployed an emergency response team to Mexico to assess the survivors’ most urgent needs. Because of the swift and assertive efforts of the Mexican Government to clear debris, pull people out from the building rubble, and treat the injured, we found the greatest need to be the mental health of survivors in Oaxaca.

Trauma from the event and the loss of loved ones, homes and livelihoods caused immeasurable grief in the aftermath of the earthquake and left individuals in Oaxaca, particularly children, vulnerable to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Making matters worse, thousands of aftershocks tormented southwestern Mexico for weeks after the initial devastation and continuously reignited fear in communities trying to recover. The aftershocks kept many awake at night with anxiety and pushed others to sleep outside in the streets, exacerbating an already challenging grieving process.

To support the communities in Oaxaca, where the aftershocks were most relentless, International Medical Corps is partnering with a local organization to deliver mental health and psychosocial support to families and communities of three Oaxacan municipalities affected by the earthquakes. Activities may include art therapy workshops to help children overcome stress and psychological trauma through art; youth-built community memorials to honor what was lost during the disaster; story-telling workshops involving groups of elders; youth-produced and directed short documentaries to record community history; and more.

As the mission of International Medical Corps is to provide the people we serve with the knowledge and skills they need to be their own First Responders in the future, more than one hundred men and women will receive training in psychological first aid. They will in turn spread awareness in their communities of basic steps that can be taken during an emergency to better manage the physiological impact of disaster.

In the coming weeks and months, International Medical Corps will continue to collaborate with the Mexican Government to explore other ways in which we can support the needs of communities in Oaxaca. We thank all of you in the GlobalGiving community for your continued support and look forward to reporting on our work in future updates. 

A girl in Oaxaca stands beside her destroyed home
A girl in Oaxaca stands beside her destroyed home
The team visits families to discuss needs, Ixtepec
The team visits families to discuss needs, Ixtepec
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Organization Information

International Medical Corps

Location: Los Angeles, CA - USA
Website:
Project Leader:
Davis Nordeen
Los Angeles, CA United States

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