COVID-19: Regional Response East
To increase efficiency of operations and speed of response, as well as deliver more effective programs and services for the communities we serve, International Medical Corps organizes its international programs by regions, with each region supported by an interdisciplinary team. The East Region includes countries in north and east Africa, Asia and Europe: Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Libya, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Ukraine.
International Medical Corps continues to implement programs in 12 of the country’s 34 provinces, with a focus on gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and response. Mobile teams continue to safely access most field locations and regularly meet with those we are helping, applying all available protection and prevention measures, following WHO guidelines to protect our staff and those we serve. We continue to purchase soap bars for local residents while raising awareness about the critical importance of handwashing for personal protection against COVID-19. Our GBV mobile units are now working to better understand the protection needs of women and girls during the pandemic. Based on our findings, field responses will be tailored as much as possible to ensure that women and girls are empowered during the crisis. We continue to participate in UN and interagency coordination meetings to stay abreast of information gained by our international and national partners, and offer feedback from our own field experience. We continue to provide phone-based case management and counselling to GBV survivors when appropriate and safe, and are using infection prevention and control (IPC) measures at all service centres. Arrangements to minimize the risk of infection include schooling far-smaller groups, maintaining social distancing during sessions and ensuring access to handwashing for all participants at all meeting points arranged by our mobile teams.
The country team has been participating in national and local field office COVID-19 coordination meetings with different bodies, including government agencies and other implementing partners, since the start of the pandemic. During a one-month period, we screened 4,913 patients for the virus at International Medical Corps-supported facilities, determining that 107 of those screened were suspected to be COVID-19 positive and sending them to government quarantine centres for testing. We have reached about 3,000 community residents directly through COVID-19 awareness-raising activities, reaching another 10,620 indirectly through banners, posters, flyers and radio messages. We have provided training to 42 frontline staff from International Medical Corps and our partners, focusing on COVID-19 awareness, how to identify symptoms of the disease, the proper use and handling of personal protection equipment, case management and psychological first aid (PFA). We have also employed a full-time epidemiologist for two months to support the Ethiopia Public Health Institute Emergency Operation Center in Addis Ababa twice a week. Our team in the town of Dollo, in southeastern Ethiopia near the country’s border with Somalia, has begun screening refugee traffic at the Dollo Ado reception centre for evidence of fever.
International Medical Corps in Libya mobilized quickly to address the threat posed by COVID-19, training rapid response teams working for the country’s National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) about the virus and its symptoms; its prevention, transmission and treatment; how to conduct contact tracing; and how to use personal protective equipment (PPE). International Medical Corps was the first international NGO operating in the country to support the NCDC by donating PPE for its rapid response teams. We are training health staff how to respond to suspected cases of COVID-19, as well as providing supplies of necessary PPE. We also have a newly trained team of mental health counsellors who are supporting our primary healthcare teams in three field locations, in addition to preparing culturally appropriate COVID-19 messages for an online awareness-raising campaign on a country-specific COVID-19 Facebook page. Responding to heightened stress and anxiety that can accompany COVID-19, we are strengthening our mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) response by launching a support hotline to provide PFA to members of the public. We have also adjusted our GBV programs, switching to a remote case management strategy that ensures survivors can still access our services during restrictions on movement outside the home. Finally, we are training social workers from the Libyan Ministry of Social Affairs about the heightened risks of GBV that can occur as restrictions on movement tighten and curfews force more survivors to spend prolonged periods inside their homes with their abusers.
International Medical Corps is at the forefront of the COVID-19 response in Pakistan. A local FM radio station in the country’s northwestern province of Pakhtunkhwa has started broadcasting short messages that we have developed and translated into the local Pashtu language, to heighten community engagement and awareness of COVID-19 risks. On May 8, Pakhtunkhwa’s FM radio began broadcasting ten 30-second spots per day, for 60 days, reaching residents of Pakistani communities living in several districts of the province as well as seven villages of Afghan refugees. International Medical Corps has also distributed PPE kits and informational banners for community volunteers, staff of local partner organizations and gender support groups working in the Afghan refugee villages, for use during the pandemic. In the first week of May, we provided 700 PPE kits to our community volunteers, our staff and local partner organizations. After consultation with the Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Department of Health, we expect to support the department’s planned upgrade of COVID-19 isolation centres. We have also provided training of trainers (TOT) programs and training for health managers to 45 government healthcare providers and International Medical Corps staff on how to safely don and doff PPE, implement effective IPC measures, and establish formal procedures to deal with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients. A recent training course on MHPSS and the COVID 19 pandemic brought the total number trained on COVID-related MHPSS issues to 106 frontline staff and 92 health professionals.
International Medical Corps began work related to COVID-19 in early March, when our team began supporting Manila Health Department efforts to protect the central city area’s 1.8 million people from the virus. For example, we have provided the department with additional transportation for suspected COVID-19 patients to local health facilities for testing and consultation. Since March, our team has also provided a training-of-trainers course for health facility management staff on emerging infectious diseases, and installed triage tents where clinicians can screen for COVID-19 symptoms all who enter and exit Manila’s large Santa Ana Hospital—the city’s designated infectious disease centre. To help protect healthcare workers, we have provided full PPE sets as well as more than a half-million separate PPE items, including surgical masks, gowns and goggles. We have provided transportation for staff and patients at Santa Ana since the government declared a stay-at-home order on March 15. During the week of May 4, this vehicle was diverted to support measles immunizations carried out by the department in two Manilla neighbourhoods that had reported cases of measles. We also provided PPE, including 150 gowns, 150 pairs of gloves and 15 face shields to the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Unit of the Manila Health Department, which plans to use the equipment for measles immunization and other MCH services at the community level. Following reports of COVID-19 infections among staff working at the facility and a request for assistance, we provided 200 KN95 masks to the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City.
In Somalia, International Medical Corps is coordinating its response to COVID-19 through the Ministry of Health at both the federal and regional government levels, and is a member of the Inter-Agency Risk Communication and Community Engagement Taskforce. In Galkacyo South—a regional centre about 500 miles northwest of Mogadishu—we are working with authorities to equip and supply an isolation ward to receive COVID-19 patients at the main hospital. We have also donated PPE to the Somali humanitarian group Jowhar INTERSOS, the Federal Ministry of Health in Mogadishu and COVID-19 isolation centres. In addition, our team has trained all staff on IPC measures and to recognize COVID-19 symptoms, helping them understand how the virus spreads and how to use PPE. Our GBV team has also conducted focus group discussions with women and girls across our four operational areas and collected information on what they know about COVID-19, how they receive information and their main concerns about the virus. International Medical Corps facilities in four of Somalia’s 18 regions continue to screen beneficiaries for signs of the virus, a step we implemented after Somalia’s first case was confirmed on March 16. And to help with messaging, we have posted materials in the Somali language about COVID-19 at all our offices and in health facility waiting areas.
International Medical Corps continues to help lead the pandemic response in South Sudan, serving as co-lead of the country’s COVID-19 Case Management and IPC Taskforce. Our country director also has joined the South Sudan NGO Forum Steering Committee as an advisory member to assist the group with advocacy, planning, and preparedness. With support from the World Health Organization, we are managing the expansion of the Juba Infectious Disease Unit (IDU) to include 75 new beds. USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has also committed to provide additional funding to support expanded operations of the facility during the pandemic. In a positive milestone, on May 4 we discharged from the IDU our first patient who had recovered from COVID-19. In other areas, we are screening all entrants to protection-of-civilian (PoC) camps in Juba and Malakal, and have begun initial screening at the PoC camp in Wau. In addition, we have put in place an adapted triaging system at the POCs to pre-sort patients symptomatically to reduce transmission in the wards. We have trained all healthcare workers in Juba, Malakal and Wau on COVID-related treatment and prevention protocols, and have distributed supplies of PPE to our healthcare teams there. Based on our long history of work in South Sudan, and our experience with and knowledge of dealing with infectious diseases in Africa, our team is currently presenting plans to donors and UN agencies that would establish dedicated COVID-related supportive-care facilities at the POC sites in Juba and Wau.
Our Sudan team works mainly in the Darfur Region, as well as South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where our COVID-19-related related response has included training of both office-based and clinical staff about the virus, its symptoms and behaviour, and essential IPC measures, including the importance of PPE for all staff. Our sites at Umdukun, near Darfur’s western border with Chad, as well as Jebel Mara to the east, have established local-level Emergency Preparedness and Planning committees that recently conducted their first weekly meetings. International Medical Corps is also providing logistical support for COVID-related activities at both state and local levels, including five days of training for 60 Emergency Response and Planning Committee members in Central Darfur’s state capital, Zalingei. We have also engaged in awareness-raising efforts, including the printing and distribution of 2,000 fliers on health education, as well as IPC guidelines and COVID-related posters. Dissemination of COVID-19 messaging is being transmitted through a local radio station in four different languages four times a day. Radio dramas featuring COVID-19 themes are also broadcast four times a week. In addition, experts are invited to the radio station every week to provide key COVID-19 related messages to the community. We are working with the Ministry of Health to provide the materials needed to end shortages of equipment at COVID-19 isolation centres in Umdukun and Golo.
International Medical Corps is continuing to provide MHPSS-related training and counselling services in Ukraine, both directly and in coordination with local partners, through remote means that include telephone and online groups. The team also has delivered printed booklets to its different field sites, enabling those without tablets and smartphones—including older people, who are more vulnerable to the virus—to participate. International Medical Corps and the MHPSS Technical Working group also participated in the translation to Ukrainian of How Kids Can Fight COVID-19, a storybook for children published by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee.