COVID-19: Regional Response West
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 West Region includes countries in west, central and southern Africa, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean: Bahamas, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mali, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
International Medical Corps has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Bahamas by promoting water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and infection prevention and control, and providing supplies. On the island of Grand Bahama, we have provided five health facilities with bucket hand-washing stations and distributed 14,436 personal protection equipment (PPE) items, including masks, gloves, gowns, sharps containers, aprons and first-aid kits. To date, International Medical Corps has reached more than 15,000 individuals in the Bahamas with COVID-19 awareness messaging. In addition, the Bahamas team is providing mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services, with a psychosocial support helpline for COVID-19 receiving calls and peer support group activities being conducted by telephone.
International Medical Corps has already been working closely with Burundi’s Ministry of Health and other key stakeholders to protect the country from Ebola, and has leveraged these preparedness activities to support the country’s COVID-19 contingency plans. The government has not announced any formal restrictions, but communities have begun taking precautions, such as setting up handwashing stations and maintaining some degree of social distancing. With support from International Medical Corps staff from the DRC, the Burundi mission has provided training on COVID-19 for 655 healthcare providers, and provided training of trainers for an additional 38 Ministry of Health personnel. The country team has also supported the government in conducting screening and follow-up at Bujumbura International Airport for incoming passengers from countries with confirmed cases of COVID-19. Over the coming weeks, we will continue training frontline health workers on COVID-19 case management and disseminate treatment protocols to all of Burundi’s hospitals, while continuing to conduct community outreach and education programs through engagement with religious and administrative leaders.
Although the government of Cameroon has prepared a national response plan, its capacity to track and manage COVID-19 cases remains very low and the number of confirmed cases—particularly in the capital city of Yaoundé—increases every day. On April 29, Cameroon recorded its first confirmed cases in the Far North region, which is home to more than 122,000 refugees. Since March 27, International Medical Corps in Cameroon has been implementing a COVID-19 response and prevention project in the Minawao refugee camp in the Far North, which hosts more than 60,000 refugees, and where malnutrition is widespread. To date, health teams have trained 127 health staff and outreach volunteers in COVID-19 prevention, and reached 33,499 people through messaging. The mission recently received a grant to support the distribution of PPE and training, and is realigning existing projects to support additional COVID-19 response activities.
Central African Republic (CAR)
CAR’s Ministry of Health has suspended community health worker (CHW) messaging activities and is requiring that all CHWs be tested before resuming activities. International Medical Corps was asked by the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to lead the Community Engagement Committee, a consortium that also includes Oxfam, the Danish Refugee Council and Concern Worldwide, to support the country’s COVID-19 response. In collaboration with CAR’s Ministry of Health, the committee is organizing and coordinating efforts between NGOs and donor communities on COVID-19 activities, to ensure that there are no gaps or overlaps in programming. Currently, the CAR team is developing a concept note to cover six months of COVID-19 response activities, including the procurement of PPE and training for health professionals.
Although funding is coming to an end and the country team will be closing out its activities over the next two months, the team is supporting a hospital in N’Djamena with COVID-19 response activities, including providing treatment services, handwashing stations, messaging and response coordination.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
To date, the DRC team has provided COVID-19 training for 47 healthcare personnel and 16 Ministry of Health staff. Current national COVID-19 preparedness and response activities in the DRC are centred in the capital city of Kinshasa. The government recently rolled out a national preparedness plan to support health sectors and train health facility staff. Apart from Kinshasa, where a facility is being established to safely manage cases, no other city has COVID-19 ready treatment centres. However, the network of screening and referral units (SRUs) set up over the past 18 months to fight DRC’s Ebola epidemic have the potential to conduct COVID-19 screenings. International Medical Corps has set up 95 such facilities in 11 health zones along the border of eastern DRC. So far, 66 International Medical Corps staff members working in SRUs in and around Goma have undergone training on COVID-19 case management and infection prevention and control measures. We provided additional COVID-19 training to 16 Ministry of Health staff in International Medical Corps’ Ebola Treatment Center in Mangina.
International Medical Corps’ Mali mission has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic since late February 2020 in places where we have active programming, including Timbuktu and Ségou. As part of the national COVID-19 Task Force of the Health Cluster, International Medical Corps’ Mali team meets regularly with governmental counterparts in the capital city of Bamako to determine needs and provide technical support in collaboration with such international partners as ECHO, OFDA, WHO and UNICEF. The team is reprogramming funds from existing projects to implement COVID-19 mitigation measures, and drafting proposals for additional grants focused exclusively on a pandemic response. In addition, the team has updated its business continuity and contingency plans, and is procuring preventative health and WASH supplies.
COVID-19 cases are rapidly rising in Kano and Borno states, where International Medical Corps’ Nigeria operations are centred. Our mission is currently responding to the COVID-19 outbreak through its network of 1,798 trained volunteers as part of its CORE Group Polio Project. These trained volunteers are conducting COVID-19 surveillance and have reached 87,162 people with COVID-19 messaging. They also trained 2,300 community leaders and members on COVID-19 prevention and distributed educational materials in seven displacement camps. In addition, the Nigeria team recently submitted a concept note for COVID-19 prevention activities that will target internally displaced people in formal and informal camps, aiming to help more than 160,000 people directly.
International Medical Corps’ Puerto Rico mission is adapting its current programming to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19, shifting many of its nutrition awareness and education activities to an approach that includes increased use of social media, development of an informational hotline and remote training. To date, the Puerto Rico team has reached 36,085 people with awareness messaging on social media. The team, which recently received a $50,000 grant to address mental health needs, is identifying the most effective ways to continue providing emotional support and preparedness to address the anxiety and stress caused not only by recent earthquakes, but also concerns related to the COVID-19 outbreak. With support from International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Unit, the Puerto Rico mission recently installed emergency medical field units at Hospital Damas in Ponce and the Hospital Universitario Dr. Ramón Ruiz Arnau in Bayamón. Two additional health facilities have reached out and will receive support from International Medical Corps for increased surge capacity. The Puerto Rico team will soon be receiving 109,000 KN95 masks to further assist regional hospitals.
Due to travel restrictions, the Venezuela team is spread out, with only one staff member currently in country and the rest of the team working remotely. The team resubmitted a grant proposal focused on MHPSS services and support to the health cluster in the form of coordination and information management. A new concept note for Colombia is now also underway, which will focus on health services and include a COVID-19 response.
Since March 30, the entire nation has been on lockdown, with efforts being made to trace individuals who have been in contact with infected persons. International Medical Corps’ Zimbabwe team continues to participate remotely in key meetings with donors and partners. Through an existing program, the team facilitates ongoing district-level distribution of COVID-19 prevention flyers and posters. The team has also worked collaboratively with the Ministry of Health to develop additional educational materials for distribution, and applied for 500 bicycles from World Bicycle Relief to be used by community health volunteers working on COVID-19 prevention issues. Currently, the team is preparing a number of WASH proposals that include COVID-19 prevention messaging, training activities, distribution of hygiene kits and waste management.