They fight the pandemic across all borders
By: Médecins Sans Frontières
COVID-19 has affected millions all over the world, and there are many organizations responding to the pandemic—all of them facing challenges in their response.
One such organization is Doctors Without Borders, otherwise known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). It’s a group that works in over 70 countries around the world, and faces some of the most desperate situations.
The work is fraught with challenges: from the global shortage of PPEs to lack of transportation. Still, their duty is to care for the most vulnerable: children, refugees, people living with HIV and other high-risk groups. And among those who carry on with that duty are MSF’s Filipino field workers.
From refugee camps to cities rife with violence, listen to the stories of Filipinos who are battling COVID-19 around the world.
“Some of our patients walk hours just to get to the hospital. They even walk for one day, two days, just to access secondary-level of care. For miles on end, we are the only secondary facility that they can access,” says Dr. Shirly Pador.
Pador, she’s a doctor at the mission in Jonglei, South Sudan, where COVID-19 is just one of many threats these patients face.
“We see about 300 outpatient consultations every day. We also provide services to children [younger] than five years old with severe acute malnutrition. That’s aside from TB, HIV, malaria, kala-azar and other conditions. A lot of our [patients] belong to the high-risk groups or the immunocompromised relative to getting COVID-19. The population we serve are constantly exposed to violence, and they do not have access to basic necessities like food, and water and health care. It will be very challenging if we get COVID-19 here.”
In Bangladesh, some cases have been confirmed in the Rohingya refugee camp, where Imee Japitana is working as nurse and project medical referent.
“On a regular day, the hospital [would be] running smoothly. We had enough staff in different wards, including the intensive care units,” Japitana says. “Then we had a measles outbreak beginning of this year. The pediatric ward was full of patients. So it was very, very difficult, especially for the nurses, because some of the patients referred to our hospital were serious cases already. [Our] staff were overstretched.
“When we started to communicate to the team about the COVID-19 response, everybody was just really scared to be assigned there. I think what helped them really is also being able to be open to them and update them about the situation. We are trying to adjust day by day.”
“We know that COVID-19 is something new. So, currently there is a big gap [when it comes to] the evidence-based medicine for COVID-19,” shares Dr. Yuely Capileño.
Capileño is a medical doctor and project medical referent in Iraq. And in Mosul, where he works, MSF donated beds to furnish a 50-room building run by the Ministry of Health in Al Salam hospital complex, for the isolation of patients.
“We need strong infection prevention and control compliance, and personal protective equipment. But everywhere in the world, [there’s a shortage of] PPEs. So we have to rationalize their use, [and] not compromise the safety of the staff handling patients. We have to be creative and resourceful in making improvised PPEs, like face shields and coveralls.”
Sometimes, even getting to work is a challenge. Sharon Macaranas, admin manager in Mosul, says, “The national staff are really dedicated to come to work. Even [if] there are no cars, [and] they have to walk. Even with the curfew, with the lockdown, they come to work.”
Meanwhile in Nigeria, it’s sanitation that’s become a problem.
“Thousands of our patients are settled in the informal camps without any good access to health, water, sanitation, and hygiene,” says Rodel Lambatin, a nurse and project medical referent working in the country. “We push people to do proper hand washing. [But] how can they do it if they don’t have water in the first place? They don’t have good shelter, so if there are communicable diseases, it’s easier for the disease to spread in the community.”
In Nigeria, the organization is providing technical support to the Ministry of Health and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, as they set up isolation centers for patients. “I was really overwhelmed during the past couple of weeks because we are not actually prepared on how to respond to COVID-19. [None] of us have the experience for this kind of outbreak. So we just do our best every day.”
“We are very concerned with the little ones. [Working in] a pediatric emergency hospital, we have a lot of patients with severe malaria, [or] severe acute malnutrition. These patients are very immunocompromised. They really need to be protected. We save a lot of babies. Sadly, we also lose some babies.”
This is what ICU nurse Jerwin Capuras says about the situation in Sierra Leone. In the country’s Kenema District, MSF completed rehabilitation work at the government hospital so that it could become a COVID-19 treatment centre.
Republic of Cameroon
“I have a very good team on the ground and we can easily find people who will be willing to help, to go to the frontlines. You see them working to the bone, because they know it means life or death for their countrymen,” says Dr. Karina Aguilar, surgeon and project medical referent.
In Bamenda, a city in the northwest part of Cameroon, isolation and treatment wards were set up by MSF in regional hospitals for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients. But this isn’t the only problem the republic faces.
Violence in Cameroon has escalated sharply in recent years, forcing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and leaving them in dire need of assistance long before the pandemic started.
“Imagine the people in conflict, Cameroonians who fled because their house got burned down, or their place is where the conflict is. So you’re not sure if they have water, food, electricity. What can we do is [provide] PPEs, work on disinfection, and proper hygiene for the team, and the proper isolation for the patients.”
It’s hard work, in difficult places, but Filipino field workers continue to care for the most vulnerable. Both in the Philippines and across the world’s borders.