Six ways MSF is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

With over five million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, many organisations—including Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)—are working tirelessly for everyone’s health and safety. With operations in more than 70 countries, the organisation is able to respond to communities affected by the pandemic. Here are a few ways MSF is doing that.

1. Coordinating with local authorities

Iraq has over 4,800 confirmed cases. MSF is supporting various hospitals and working jointly with local health authorities to facilitate the treatment of patients. Project medical referent Dr. Yuely Capileño says, “[What’s important] is coordination with the [Department of Health]. Every activity should be coordinated with them, so that it is coherent with [their] strategy.”

There are currently over 36,700 confirmed cases in Bangladesh. There are also confirmed cases in the Rohingya refugee camp, where MSF teams are carrying out health promotion activities.

Imee Japitana is a nurse and project medical referent there. “There are a lot of rumors and misconceptions, about our hospital, related to COVID-19. We invited some ward leaders, the camp-in-charge, the health sector focal point, also the imams and mahdis, for a tour inside the hospital.”

“We explained to them every single step that we are doing, from the time that we identify a suspected case, what happens while they are in the isolation units. We also explained the collection of samples, the testing, that no caretaker is allowed, especially for adults. We need people from the community to help us share the information to the host population, and to the refugees.”

2. Reinforcing screening and infection control in our facilities

According to nurse Jan Vincent Sotito, project medical referent in the Middle East, “We are implementing COVID-19 screening in our facility, so that we can continue our activities.”

Visitors pass by the new COVID-19 pre-screening tent at the entrance of Bamenda's St Mary Soledad Hospital, North West Cameroon. © Freida Nemkul/MSF

In Bamenda, Cameroon, MSF set up isolation and treatment wards in regional hospitals for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients, and trained the medical and non-medical staff to run the units.  The procedures for ambulance service were adapted for COVID-19 response.

Dr. Karina Aguilar, surgeon and project medical referent, says, “They've set up protocols already in terms of disinfecting the ambulance, because they are the frontliners. They are the ones picking up the patient and then sending the patient to the referral centre.”

3. Sharing ways to practice proper hygiene

Across the seven states where MSF works in Nigeria, the organisation is providing technical support to the Ministry of Health and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. Project medical referent Rodel Lambatin and his team are trying to raise awareness about how to protect from the disease. “The [health promotion] team is doing information dissemination on COVID-19, the mode of transmission, the preventive measures, most especially in the IDP camps. We tell them, everyone can be a victim. It's not about religions. It's not about your nationality. Everyone is susceptible to COVID-19.”

A resident washing his hands at one of the handwashing stations installed by MSF in Kinyago, Eastlands, Nairobi, Kenya. © Paul Odongo/MSF

Linda Isack is an HR Manager for MSF in the Middle East. “In our project, MSF provides medical assistance to refugees in the camps. Here, the MSF team is trying to raise awareness about hygiene and providing health education sessions.”

4. Converting existing facilities to COVID-19 isolation wards

In Mosul, Iraq, MSF has donated 62 beds to a building run by the Ministry of Health in Al Salam hospital complex, for the isolation of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients. But this may not be enough. Capileño says, “In case there's an overflow of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Al Salam hospital, we will be there to support them.”

Surgeon Dr. Jennifer Tong is also in Mosul. She adds, “Each patient will be isolated, [whether they are suspected] or confirmed [COVID-19 cases]. Isolation is [important, so that even] before the patient is confirmed, we can confine them, and they don't go to the community. [We] stop them from being superspreaders.”

5. Building dedicated health structures

Some of MSF’s largest programmes are in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), focusing on measles, Ebola, HIV/AIDS and people displaced by conflict. Here, the need goes beyond supporting hospitals, which is why logistics team leader Hans Olijve is working on constructing isolation wards.

“We identified locations, layouts, materials and construction planning, for setting up dedicated structures both in the hospital and in the outreach posts to take care [of] any possible cases. With these actions, on top of normal healthcare services like maternity, cholera, TB, we can [show] that MSF will do what it can to assist with this outbreak."

6. Training local staff

Training is another way MSF is supporting COVID-19 response around the world. In Banten, Indonesia, MSF reinforces the medical COVID-19 team with staff to provide training and support to primary healthcare facilities.

To support Iraqi Ministry of Health on facing COVID-19, MSF is providing MOH hospital staff with technical support on infection prevention and control and patient triage. © MSF

Deputy medical coordinator Dr. Dirna Mayasari shares, “We’re providing training to the volunteer doctors who are deployed to the COVID-19 referral hospitals. We’re also supporting the healthcare facilities in the sub-district level, making sure [infection prevention and control or IPC] is in place, that the standard protocol of health services is implemented properly.”

Lambatin’s team in Nigeria is doing the same. “We are also conducting IPC training at the isolation centre and nearby facilities, not only to medical personnel but with the non-medical workers as well.”

As the COVID-19 situation develops, MSF teams all over the world are working hard to respond to those in most urgent need.