Medical volunteers set to aid Irma-hit Caribbean islands told to stay home for now

Amherstburg nurse Carolyn Davies was on a plane ready to travel to the British Virgin Islands as part of a group of volunteers from Canada trying to deliver medical aid to the region hit by Hurricane Irma, when their deployment was called off.

Canadian Medical Assistance Team depends on local authorities for go-ahead, told health needs currently being

Carolyn Davies is a nurse practitioner from Amherstburg who volunteers with CMAT. (CBC)

Amherstburg nurse practitioner Carolyn Davies was on a plane ready to travel to the British Virgin Islands to deliver medical aid to the region hit by Hurricane Irma when her deployment was called off. 

Davies said the local government told them that health needs are being met by local providers, and international assistance was no longer required. 

"We're all standing by," Davies said. "I don't know whether to unpack my knapsack or not."

The four-person advance team for the Canadian Medical Assistance Teams (CMAT) had been invited to go to Saint Martin by the dean of a medical school there, according to Davies. But the region has since become very unstable. 

"They're on the brink of civil war and there's been a lot of looting and violence," Davies said, adding that it's not in the team's best interest to travel there until things settle down. 

Hurricane Irma has caused more than $10-billion in damage in the Caribbean, destroying close to 95 per cent of the buildings on Saint Martin and killed at least 34 people in the region. 

Although Davies and her team have called off their trip, she said they are still ready to respond if help is needed.

"Right now we're collaborating directly with the World Health Organization, and the Pan American Health Organization," she said.  

Davies explained that CMAT works with regional partners to determine the areas of greatest need. They often change plans of action and reroute while in the field to make sure their resources are being properly utilized. 

"These things happen all the time," she said. "The World Health Organization is forever assessing what is going on and where."

This Sept. 6, 2017 photo shows storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in St. Martin. (Jonathan Falwell/Associated Press)

Davies said it's disappointing that her team isn't going, and that because CMAT is a non-profit, non-governmental organization, the nurses, doctors, and medical professionals who choose to go on aid trips do so on their own vacation time. 

"We do drop everything to do this," she said. "We fundraise for our generators and our drugs and our medicines so standing down is a massive decision because it shifts a lot of things."

The team is still "ready to move on a dime," Davies added, and public donations to CMAT will still go towards the countries the team planned to go into.