6 ways MSF is responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

01 Apr 2020

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is one of the largest medical-humanitarian organisations in the world, with operations in more than 70 countries. With our long history of responding to disease outbreaks and epidemics, we are in a unique position to help respond to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic that is sweeping the globe.

Over recent months we've been shifting resources and offering support to countries and communities affected by COVID-19 around the world. Here are just a few of the ways we’ve been responding:

1. Supporting hospitals

6 ways MSF is responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

This 120-bed hospital support unit in Leganés, Spain provides additional capacity for hospitals in the region. © Olmo Calvo / MSF

With shortage of intensive care beds a key concern as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, MSF is working to relieve pressure on hospitals:

  • In Spain we have established two health units with more than 200 beds to support hospitals in Madrid. These beds will be used to take patients with moderate symptoms, which frees up capacity for hospitals to focus on the most critical cases.

  • We are also advising Spanish health authorities as they develop temporary units to expand hospital capacity in Madrid, Catalonia – including two hospitals in Barcelona – and in Vitoria. 

  • In Italy, we are supporting three hospitals in the Lombardia region - the first epicentre of the outbreak in the country - with infection prevention and control (IPC). 

  • In Haiti, we are converting Drouillard Hospital - previously a referral hospital for severe burns - into a 50 bed COVID-19 facility.

  • In Belgium’s capital Brussels, we have set up a facility with 50 beds designed for migrants and homeless people to isolate, receive medical care and be transferred to hospital. Capacity can be increased to 150 beds if needed.

2. Supporting healthcare workers and clinics

6 ways MSF is responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

MSF has been offering support to health workers to help them fight the epidemic safely. Carlotta, coordinator of the MSF project, with the collaboration of an nurse from the hospital hygiene service, and the help of the head of the radiology service, is securing the examination room. © Lisa Veran / MSF

Healthcare workers on the frontline of COVID-19 response are facing problems that are familiar to many at MSF: how should we focus our energy under pressure? How do we prioritise cases with limited resources? How should clinics be set up to minimise the chance of infection spreading?
We are committed to sharing our knowledge of best practice, drawing on our decades of experience in responding to epidemics and infectious diseases to help advise and train health workers - and to provide logistical support where needed.

  • In Belgium, we are supporting five hospitals by providing training and technical advice, and are prepared to help increase admission capacity should the need arise.

  • In Syria, we are providing training and technical support for workers setting up isolation areas and patient flow design in Azaz and Idlib.

3. Supporting the elderly

6 ways MSF is responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

MSF is supporting nursing homes to protect guests and staff in Marche region, Italy. In the COVID-19 crisis, facilities for the elderly are among the most vulnerable, often lacking the specialised medical knowledge and equipment of hospitals. © MSF

Elderly people are among the most vulnerable to severe infection from COVID-19. In nursing homes, people often live in close contact while also lacking specialised medical equipment. 
We are supporting nursing homes for the elderly in Italy, Spain and Belgium, helping particularly with infection prevention and control, but also with risk assessment and patient care in some instances.

4. Supporting migrants, refugees and the homeless

6 ways MSF is responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, midwife Shahana and traditional birth attendant Nur Bahar visit expectant mother, Hamida, in a refugee camp for Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. © Anthony Kwan / MSF

People living in overcrowded conditions, on the streets, in makeshift camps or in substandard housing also have an elevated risk of infection by COVID-19. Many are already in poor health, often as a result of poor living conditions. Viruses thrive in areas with poor water and sanitation, and many of these marginalised groups are excluded from the formal healthcare system. 

  • In Paris and surrounding areas, MSF teams are intervening in emergency shelters, helping detect those who are potentially ill with COVID-19.In the coming days the team plans to expand activities to provide consultations to people living on the street. 

  • In Geneva, MSF is providing logistical and health support for vulnerable groups living in precarious conditions, and training to staff and volunteers working with these groups. 

  • In Samos refugee camp in Greece, we are supporting the isolation of confirmed cases, while in Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, MSF has prepared an emergency plan in the case that the epidemic spreads.

  • At the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, we are preparing isolation wards and patient waiting rooms in anticipation of patients showing symptoms of COVID-19.

5. Ensuring access to COVID-19 drugs

6 ways MSF is responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

A 3D render of Coronavirus disease cells. © Shutterstock

As the world waits for a possible COVID-19 vaccine, MSF has called on governments and pharmaceutical companies to ensure access to any medical tools that may be developed. We are concerned that companies may use the crisis for profiteering, or to leverage patents that may restrict access to medicines by lower-income countries.
If high prices and monopolies restrict access to medicines, tests, and vaccines, then this pandemic - and the suffering it causes - will only be prolonged. We are calling on governments to suspend and override patents for COVID-19 medical tools by issuing compulsory licenses and taking other measures, such as price controls, to ensure availability and affordability.

6. Preparing for the pandemic in low-to-middle income countries

6 ways MSF is responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

MSF donated 3.5 tonnes of personal protective equipment to health workers at the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital in Hubei province, China. © MSF

COVID-19 has already tested the capacity of some of the advanced health systems in the world. So what would an outbreak look like in a lower-income country, where people have reduced access to clean water, higher population density and no access to a social safety net?
These are the contexts in which MSF generally works. We are deeply concerned about what might happen if the virus was to spread in regions with weaker health systems, and large, vulnerable populations. We are helping countries across the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and Asia prepare for the possibility of an outbreak. 
This includes supporting specialist COVID-19 centres in Yemen, Iraq and Mali, providing training and technical support for facilities in Afghanistan, Syria and Mozambique, and repurposing existing projects in South Africa, Nigeria and Iraq to respond to the crisis. (Click here for an update-to-date break of where we are responding across the world.)

Can you make a donation to support our COVID-19 response?

Right now, Médecins Sans Frontières is providing much needed support and medical care in over 30 countries to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our teams are also gearing up to confront potential outbreaks in the hundreds of areas we were already working before the pandemic struck. We are deploying medical staff, sending supplies and applying nearly 50 years of experience fighting epidemics to protect the most vulnerable and save lives.

Can you help increase our capacity to respond by making a donation to our COVID-19 Crisis Appeal?