MSF: COVID-19 project updates from Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela

BRAZIL: MSF responds to COVID-19 in Amazonas, Brazil

Despite its relatively small population, the state of Amazonas is among the regions with the highest absolute number of deaths caused by COVID-19 in Brazil, putting pressure on the health system but also of the funerary system in the state.

“The situation in Amazonas is very worrying. We believe that our work can make a difference and we are doing our best to begin operating as quickly as possible,” said Dr Cecilia Hirata, MSF field coordinator.

Medical care in hospitals

  • MSF is providing intensive care support for critically ill patients, medical isolation for mild or moderate cases and substantial health promotion activities in urban and rural areas of Amazonas state, Brazil, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Over the last several weeks, mortality rates have reached alarming levels in the capital and throughout the state. To reduce the number of people dying, MSF will start working at Hospital 28 de Agosto, managing 12 ICU beds for critically ill patients and 36 beds for moderate cases and will provide the medical staff to care for patients with COVID-19. MSF teams are also preparing to provide similar support to other hospitals in the city.

Supporting shelters for refugees and people experiencing homelessness

  • MSF is working in six shelters for refugees and homeless people in Manaus to provide health promotion sessions, hygiene support, medical consultations and screening to identify people who might have COVID-19. MSF is also working in partnership with the state government to set up an isolation and observation centre for vulnerable people with milder cases of the disease, who do not need hospitalisation.

Medical response in rural areas

  • MSF teams are also launching a response in remote areas of rural Amazonas, to support quality medical care for patients with moderate and severe cases of COVID-19. The health of indigenous communities who struggle to reach healthcare is of major concern, and MSF is consulting with indigenous leaders and organisations to guide assistance for these communities.

Health promotion activities

  • Slowing the spread of COVID-19 is another important component of MSF’s response in Amazonas state. For this reason, health promotion activities to disseminate information on preventive measures is essential. To reach people who live in remote areas, MSF teams are preparing to provide trainings for community leaders who can pass on this knowledge to their communities.

In Brazil, in addition to Manaus, MSF is responding to COVID-19 in the cities of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Boa Vista.


MEXICO: MSF opens two centres to care for COVID-19 patients in Reynosa and Matamoros, Tamaulipas state

In coordination with the Reynosa and Matamoros health authorities, MSF has opened COVID-19 treatment centres in both cities to help prevent their health systems from becoming overwhelmed. The two centres are housed in Tamaulipas State University basketball gymnasiums.

  • In Reynosa, an isolation area has been established inside the COVID-19 centre for people who have been deported from the United States and are suspected of carrying the virus. In this area returnees will have a safe space to be quarantined until our team confirm they do not have COVID-19 or they fully recover from the infection.
  • The centre in Matamoros has been set up to care for patients with mild cases of COVID-19, who do not have the option of isolating at home.

Both facilities have 20 beds and oxygen concentrators to care for patients with severe symptoms. The centres will be managed by MSF health staff 24 hours a day throughout the week. In addition to medical and nursing teams, both centres also have staff trained in mental health, health promotion and social work to guarantee comprehensive healthcare services for patients and their families. They will provide services over the telephone to patients and in person with their families in a safe zone.

“We are here to help people cope with a complex and difficult situation, and we are going to offer them dignified and humane treatment and medical care,” says Citlali Barba, MSF project medical referent in Matamoros.

Continuing to provide other health care

Alongside the COVID-19 treatment centres, MSF will continue to provide comprehensive healthcare to migrants, asylum seekers and victims of violence in Matamoros and Reynosa. In 2019, MSF performed 7,987 medical, psychological or social work consultations across both cities. As an additional service, MSF has also opened a phone line to provide mental healthcare to survivors of violence and people who have suffered emotional traumas as a result of the pandemic.


VENEZUELA: MSF opens COVID-19 centre in Caracas

Specialist COVID-19 care in Petare

MSF is setting up a specialist COVID-19 centre in a wing of the Ana Francisca Pérez de León II hospital in Petare, northeast Caracas, in collaboration with Venezuelan authorities and the hospital's management team. Teams are making improvements to the hospital’s infrastructure and creating an inpatient unit, including intensive care beds, where COVID-19 patients can receive medical and psychological care. Hospital staff have also received personal protective equipment (PPE) and training.  

The COVID-19 centre at the Ana Francisca Pérez de León II hospital has 22 beds, including 16 inpatient beds and six intensive care beds. A multidisciplinary team, made up of MSF and hospital staff and including doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, psychologists, technicians and transport and maintenance staff, has already begun caring for patients with COVID-19 symptoms.

People arriving at the hospital with suspected COVID-19 have their symptoms assessed before being tested. Those who test positive are taken to the isolation area to be stabilised and to receive medical and psychological care.

Supporting patient’s families

An MSF team visits patients’ families to provide health information and psychological support, while actively tracing the patient’s contacts and searching for other people with symptoms within their community.

“It has been hard work and not without its challenges, due to the urgency of the situation and the need to adapt the hospital structure to the biosecurity measures, without compromising the rest of its emergency activities,” says Isaac Alcalde, coordinating MSF's emergency responses in Caracas and Miranda. “This has been possible thanks to the willingness of MSF staff and the hospital’s management team to find the best solutions for patients. It's a new situation for everyone.”

Elsewhere in Venezuela, MSF has adapted its operations in response to the COVID-19 emergency, giving priority to the most vulnerable population groups in Anzoátegui, Amazonas, Bolívar, Sucre, Miranda and the Capital district, as well as treating patients with other types of diseases.

About MSF UK

This is the press room for MSF UK - the UK office of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare. MSF offers assistance to people based on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender or political affiliation.

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