International Activity Report 2020 > Responding to COVID-19 across the world
In 2020, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams worked in more countries (88) than at any other time in our history. We responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in 70 of them, implementing measures to improve infection prevention and control (IPC), testing, and treatment, among other activities. In many places, MSF was working for the first time ever; in others, it was our first intervention in decades.
As some of the richest nations in the world struggled to cope with the pandemic, MSF stepped in to boost capacity and provide care to neglected or marginalised groups, such as homeless people, migrants and refugees, and the elderly. We also worked in areas with little or no experience of dealing with epidemics, offering advice and expertise, honed from our extensive practice of responding to disease outbreaks across the world.
In March, we launched the COVID-19 Crisis Fund, aiming to raise €150 million to both support our dedicated COVID-19 programmes and mitigate the associated impact on existing health services. In line with our principles of transparency, the following is a brief, non-exhaustive summary of activities in countries where we responded to COVID-19, but where expenditure was less than €500,000
In our first intervention in Argentina since 2003, we offered technical support, including training, and advice to local health authorities in Buenos Aires and Córdoba provinces. We helped to design protocols, staff and patient flow circuits, and IPC measures in health facilities, treatment centres and nursing homes. In both provinces, we trained prison and nursing home staff; in Buenos Aires, MSF teams also worked in care facilities for people with disabilities and homes for children and adolescents.
We responded for the first time ever in Canada, drawing on our expertise in epidemics to provide two e-briefings – one on IPC measures and the other on adapting and developing medical facilities – to help medical organisations, government agencies and remote indigenous communities prevent and manage COVID-19.
MSF teams also carried out IPC assessments in homeless shelters in Toronto and in long-term care facilities in Montreal, and recommended ways to improve overall safety for staff and residents.
In the first-ever MSF response in the Czech Republic, two small mobile teams conducted assessments and training on IPC measures in nursing homes. In partnership with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, MSF teams worked in facilities in Pilsen, South Moravian, Zlin and Central Bohemian regions.
In the Ecuadorean capital, Quito, our teams supported health centres by following up on patients with the virus. In a COVID-19 treatment centre, we provided palliative care and trained staff in this field, a pioneering initiative in the country.
We also offered training and support on IPC, health promotion and mental health to mobile teams and health posts in Quito, and in nursing homes and shelters for homeless people across the country.
In Guayas and Las Esmeraldas provinces, teams assisted health centres and nursing/care homes with IPC measures.
In Germany, teams advised organisations, volunteer groups and state institutions working with homeless people, migrants and other vulnerable groups on IPC measures, to enable them to continue their services. We also worked with the authorities in a centre for asylum seekers in the city of Halberstadt, in which hundreds of inhabitants were under quarantine, providing health education activities and psychological support.
In late January, we started conducting face-to-face, and later virtual, health promotion sessions with vulnerable people less likely to be able to access information on the virus, and at-risk groups, such as street cleaners. We also ran workshops on managing stress and anxiety, and created a website offering tips and tools to cope.
Working with local NGO Impact HK, our teams provided free basic medical consultations and visited homeless people twice a week in various locations, distributing food, drinking water and hygiene kits.
In Dublin, an MSF medical team provided testing and treatment for people from marginalised groups, such as migrants, homeless people and the travelling community, with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
A quarter of the crew members of a cruise ship docked for repairs in Nagasaki were infected with COVID-19 during an outbreak. MSF sent a doctor and two nurses to assess patients and assisted with referrals to health facilities. In Suginami, a district of Tokyo, MSF staff supported local health authorities with epidemiological analysis.
MSF’s mental health support to health workers included a short video featuring a well-known MSF clinical and health psychologist.
MSF staff ran a 24/7 mental health hotline for people affected by the pandemic.
MSF offered strategic advice and IPC support to a hospital near Oslo, where one of the largest clusters of cases in the country was located.
MSF teams in Portugal visited nursing homes, and supported authorities and management teams to train staff and establish basic IPC measures.
Working in Switzerland for the first time in a decade, during the pandemic’s first wave MSF provided logistical and sanitation support, as well as training for staff and volunteers, in vulnerable neighbourhoods around Geneva. Working with medical staff from the university teaching hospital, we treated patients and supported testing and contact tracing. In Lausanne, Vevey and Yverdon-les-Bains, we undertook IPC and health promotion activities with staff working in facilities serving homeless people and other vulnerable groups.
During the second wave, our teams worked to improve access to testing and medical care for marginalised people. We also offered advice on IPC to nursing homes in cantons Geneva and Jura, and in the neighbouring French department of Haute-Savoie.
Responding for the first time ever in the UK, MSF staff provided nursing and logistical support at the London COVID CARE Centre, in partnership with University College London Hospital. Focusing on homeless people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, the centre offered rapid testing, medical care and accommodation for those needing to self-isolate.