After first undertaking activities in response to COVID-19 during April and May 2020 to support people living in precarious conditions, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) launched a new mission in Switzerland in mid-November 2020 at the height of the second wave of new coronavirus transmissions. MSF is working in collaboration with the health authorities and charities in the cantons (states) of Geneva and Vaud and in neighbouring Haute-Savoie, France.
“As for the first wave, this intervention is at the heart of our social mission and is part of a solidarity effort within a society that has hosted the headquarters of the Swiss section since 1981”, Stephen Cornish, General Director of MSF Switzerland.
The team is currently using the expertise we acquired while responding to epidemics in our usual countries of intervention to care for vulnerable people in Switzerland. These people are receiving insufficient support from a health system – that is certainly efficient – but was shaken by the exceptional context of a pandemic.
Supporting charities in Geneva and neighbouring France
The MSF team is made up of around 10 people, who work with the social services of the canton and city of Geneva, as well as with the services of the Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève (Geneva University Hospitals – HUG), who care for vulnerable people and asylum seekers. MSF is contributing to screening people for COVID-19 in night shelters, where the most precarious people are accommodated, and provide follow-up care for those who are placed in isolation.
Both in the canton of Geneva and in the department of Haute-Savoie in neighbouring France, MSF is supporting several charities in helping their staff raise awareness of and apply COVID-19 prevention and control measures at their various accommodation and distribution sites.
The mental health of staff, particularly in anticipation of a third wave, is a cause for concern.Marc Poncin, Coordinator of the Swiss mission
Supporting Swiss nursing homes
“Since our first activities last May, MSF employees and members have maintained the link with our partners in Geneva’s institutions, health authorities and associations, by being invested professionally or on a voluntary basis,” says Marc Poncin, Coordinator of the Swiss mission. “This has enabled us to reintegrate the crisis response mechanism not only in Geneva but also in several other cantons.”
We have received requests for collaboration from various nursing homes, with the support of the cantonal medical authorities, in Geneva as well as in the cantons of Jura and Neuchâtel.
We have provided support in five nursing homes, which gave rise to several proposals for optimising infection prevention and control measures. During the week of 21 December, we also organised workshops to share experiences on crisis management in nursing homes, which helped identify areas for improvement common to seven nursing homes in canton Jura, in anticipation of a potential third wave.
Finally, are organising mental health support for nursing home staff. They have been put under great strain since the start of the pandemic and have been hard hit by the many deaths recorded in these homes.
“The mental health of staff, particularly in anticipation of a third wave, is a cause for concern and a pilot project involving a handful of nursing homes in the canton of Geneva was launched in January 2021,” explains Poncin.
Initially planned for a limited duration, the Swiss mission of MSF could evolve depending on the emergence and scale of a third wave at the beginning of 2021, the subsequent needs that arise and the situation in the different regions of Switzerland.