Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is part of the emergency response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. We’ve sent specialised medical protective equipment to Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital in China, opened a health promotion project in Hong Kong and we are in communications with health authorities in south and southeast Asia about developing their preparedness and response.
Sending equipment to China
Specialised medical protective equipment from us is on its way to Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital in the capital city of Hubei province, China, the epicentre of the current coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.
Weighing 3.5 tonnes, these supplies are being dispatched from MSF Supply in Brussels, Belgium through the Hubei Charity Federation, to reach Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, one of the hospitals on the forefront of treating patients with COVID-19.
“As of 14 February, there are more than 64,000 COVID-19 cases, 99% of which are in China. Medical protective equipment is key. So, we want to contribute to supporting frontline health workers with the specialised protection they need to work safely in an outbreak of this magnitude.”
Health promotion in Hong Kong
An MSF team in Hong Kong opened a project at the end of January focusing on health education for vulnerable people. Community engagement is a crucial activity of any outbreak response and in Hong Kong, this focuses on groups who are less likely to have access to important medical information, such as the socio-economically disadvantaged. The team is also targeting those who are more vulnerable to developing severe disease if they are infected, such as the elderly.
“Our teams have already conducted face-to-face sessions with street cleaners, refugees and asylum seekers and the visually impaired in recent weeks,” says Karin Huster, who is in charge of MSF’s project in Hong Kong. “We share up-to-date, evidence-based medical information, but perhaps even more crucially, we’re there to listen and answer the many questions that this new disease has generated. Fear can often spread faster than a virus, so helping people manage their stress and anxiety is a key focus for us.”
In addition, we’re sending a donation of one tonne of personal protective equipment to the Hong Kong St John Ambulance service to help them carry over until their stocks can be replenished. The staff are transporting high-risk patients, and therefore, it is important to ensure that they have the specialised protection they need to work safely.
Preparing countries in south and southeast Asia
Further afield, in other countries where we’re working, teams are preparing in case of an outbreak of COVID-19. In several countries, predominantly in south and southeast Asia, we are in contact with the health authorities and offering support should it be needed. This includes training of health workers on infection prevention and control measures and health education for vulnerable and at-risk groups.
Lower middle-income countries like Cambodia or Laos have under-resourced health systems. They struggle to provide services to their populations even without the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak. If a major epidemic occurs, these health systems could collapse. Precautions and preparation are critical at this stage to avoid healthcare facilities contributing to the spread of the disease. We are assessing the existing capabilities and might provide support to countries to develop their preparedness and response.
We are already speaking to our patients, such as our Hepatitis C patients in Cambodia, about what symptoms to look out for to in order to provide them with accurate information and to help alleviate their fears.