FIU collaborates with Casa Pueblo and University of Puerto Rico on NIH grant to explore the impact of energy independence on health in Puerto Rico

by Feb 23, 2022Puerto Rico0 comments

When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, it demonstrated the catastrophic impact natural disasters and an aging power grid could have on the most vulnerable populations, many of whom depend upon electricity for life-saving medical care. A group of scientists from Florida International University, the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez Campus, and Casa Pueblo want to change that.

The National Institutes of Health have awarded four FIU Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs professors—Mark Padilla, Sheilla Rodríguez-Madera, Nelson Varas-Días, and Kevin Grove—and Arturo Massol-Deyá of Casa Pueblo and the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez Campus, $3 million for a five-year study that will look at the impact that energy security has on vulnerable populations who rely on electrical power for medical equipment. The study will examine the factors that enable local government agencies, communities, and individuals in Puerto Rico to adapt to energy independence and their implications for chronic disease management. It aims to demonstrate the positive health impact of energy independence through direct access to solar power, which has already begun to appear on the islands thanks to Casa Pueblo, a nonprofit community organization that has converted homes, businesses, and community centers in Puerto Rico to solar power, supporting disaster resilience.

“It is an intentional and structural intervention conducted by Casa Pueblo that aims to liberate vulnerable populations from the unreliable power grid as a means to support community health and well-being,” said Padilla, co-principal investigator of the NIH grant and professor of global and sociocultural studies at FIU. “Therefore, the research will be able to provide an evidence-based model of how to get ‘off the grid’ and establish best practices for this work. It will also measure the precise effects on the health and wellness of the whole community and document the geographic extent of these effects.”

Puerto Rico faces frequent power outages due to damage to its power grid caused by natural disasters like Hurricane Maria. These outages increase the deaths of aging Puerto Ricans, who are already vulnerable during natural disasters. Puerto Ricans aged 50 and over account for a large proportion of patients with chronic conditions such as renal disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes. The latter, for example, has a prevalence that is 50 percent higher on the islands than the mainland US, and a three times higher associated mortality rate, according to a recent study.

The findings of this study will contribute to policy development and dissemination regarding the role of community engagement and energy independence in managing chronic diseases among aging populations in the US and the Caribbean that are vulnerable to health inequities magnified by disasters.

This story was originally published on FIU News.