Our response in Belgium to the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the largest ever in the country. Teams are working in nursing homes and providing medical care to homeless people with COVID-19.
Our work with refugees and asylum seekers involves providing mental health screening, counselling and psychoeducation in three reception centres and a number of individual housing projects in Charleroi and Roeselare.
Together with a number of other organisations, we set up a ‘humanitarian hub’ at the Gare du Nord, near Maximilian Park, in Brussels. Here, our psychologists offer counselling and mental health support as part of a complete package of services for migrants and refugees in transit.
Our activities in 2020 in Belgium
Data and information from the International Activity Report 2020.
The focus of the authorities’ response was on maintaining hospitals’ capacity to admit COVID-19 patients. Consequently, staff and patients in nursing homes were left to fend for themselves. In March, in response to the high number of deaths from the virus in nursing homes – which account for more than half the total in Belgium – MSF sent mobile teams to assist with health promotion and infection prevention and control. Working in 135 nursing homes across three regions, we also offered psychological support to staff.
Following this intervention, which ended in June, we published a report, Left behind in the time of COVID-19, and submitted our recommendations to the relevant authorities.
When the number of cases rose again in October, we resumed our activities in nursing homes, especially in Flanders and Brussels. Several of our team in the capital volunteered to support the daily running of the nursing homes during the second wave, as many were understaffed and the employees completely exhausted.
Migrants and homeless people
During the pandemic, we collaborated with two local organisations to set up a 150-bed reception and accommodation facility for vulnerable people in the centre of Brussels. The project provided a place for them to self-isolate, receive medical follow-up and, if necessary, be transferred to a hospital. These activities ended in June.
In October, at the onset of the second wave, we opened a new centre in a hotel in the Marolles district of Brussels, where we offered shelter and medical care to homeless patients who were COVID-19 positive or at risk of contagion.
In addition, MSF outreach teams assisted people with or at risk of COVID-19 living in squats, and ran health promotion and infection prevention and control activities in shelters for homeless people and migrants.
In the humanitarian hub in Brussels, where we have been offering mental healthcare to migrants since 2017, we opened a clinic in April for patients requiring a longer follow-up period.
COVID-19 support in hospitals
During the first wave, MSF assisted two hospitals in Hainaut and Antwerp provinces, by expanding their inpatient capacity with extra staff and providing technical support and training on IPC measures.
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