MSF steps up response to COVID-19 in Europe

MSF steps up response to COVID-19 in Europe

Photos and B-roll available

Photos and b-roll from France, Italy, and Belgium are available from MSF's media database here:

If you have any problem accessing the media, please contact us directly. We also have photos and b-roll from Spain which is not yet available on the database, please just ask.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has expanded activities in response to COVID-19 in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, France, Norway, Greece and Belgium.

Describing MSF’s COVID-19 response in Europe, Dr Christos Christou, MSF international president said: 

“As an emergency humanitarian organisation, MSF provides medical assistance to vulnerable people in a moment of crisis and societal disruption. Today, in Europe some of the most advanced health systems in the world are buckling under the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic. Responding to epidemics is at the core of what we do – intervening when the system is overrun and where we can put our expertise in managing emergencies to good use.”


Supporting hospitals and keeping healthcare workers safe
In Spain MSF has set up two health units with a capacity of more than 200 beds to support hospitals in Madrid. The units support the hospitals’ emergency services by taking moderate patient cases, so that the ER and intensive care units can focus on those who are most severely affected by COVID-19. Managed by the medical staff of the hospitals, MSF is providing logistical support and a monitoring team for each. MSF is also advising health authorities as they develop temporary units to expand hospital capacity in Madrid, Catalonia – including two hospitals in Barcelona - and in Vitoria. 

In Italy MSF is supporting four hospitals in the northern province of Lodi, in the Lombardy region - the epicentre of the outbreak in the country. Italian infectious disease specialists, anaesthetists, nurses and logisticians are bringing their global experience in managing epidemics to support Italian hospitals with infection control as well as patient care. One of our team's key aims is to protect hospital staff from being infected. Outside the hospitals we are starting activities to support family doctors and healthcare workers assisting people at home under isolation.

In Belgium, MSF is supporting five hospitals in Hainaut and Antwerp provinces, providing technical advice and training, and is ready to increase admission capacity.

In Switzerland, MSF is supporting the Geneva University Hospital (HUG) sharing expertise to help with the management of patients that have contracted COVID-19, and with the organisation of medical teams and services in the hospital. Under the coordination of the HUG, MSF has a mobile medical team ready to provide home based care to people with COVID-19, who do not meet the criteria for hospital admission. In collaboration with the City of Geneva, MSF has made recommendations to public and private mortuary services on procedures to avoid any post-mortem transmission of the disease.

In Norway, MSF is also providing strategic advice and IPC support to a hospital close to Oslo, in an area which is home to one of the main clusters of cases in the country.

In Greece, teams are supporting isolation in Samos camp and evaluating the support needed by hospitals. In Lesbos, MSF has prepared an emergency plan for the Moria refugee camp, should the epidemic spread.

Helping the elderly
Elderly people are among the most vulnerable to severe infection from COVID-19. In Italy, Belgium and Spain, MSF has extended activities to support nursing homes for the elderly. People living in these facilities will often live in close contact, and the homes do not usually have specialised medical equipment.

In the Marche region of Italy, MSF doctors, nurses and hygiene experts are supporting staff and local municipalities to set up infection prevention and control (IPC) measures.  In Spain, MSF is advising nursing homes on case management, risk assessment and the implementation of IPC. In Belgium, MSF is carrying out health promotion and IPC measures in nursing homes in and around Brussels. 

Supporting migrants, refugees and the homeless
In Belgium, France and Switzerland, MSF is assisting vulnerable groups living in precarious conditions, such as the homeless or migrants. People living in overcrowded conditions, on the streets, in makeshift camps or in substandard housing are at particular risk. Many are already in poor health, often as a result of their poor living conditions. Viruses thrive in areas with poor sanitation. In addition, many of these marginalised groups are excluded from the formal healthcare system.

In Brussels, MSF has set up a 50-bed facility, with the capacity to increase to 150 beds. The centre  provides a space in which migrants and homeless people can isolate, receive medical care and be transferred to hospital.

In Paris and surrounding areas, MSF teams are intervening in emergency shelters, helping detect those who are potentially ill with COVID-19, in the coming days the team plans to  expand activities to provide consultations to people living on the street.  In Geneva, MSF is providing logistical and health support for vulnerable groups living in precarious conditions, and training to staff and volunteers working with these groups. 

Further afield
MSF teams are also supporting COVID-19 activities in conjunction with health authorities from Afghanistan to Libya to Nigeria to Syria to Hong Kong. 

MSF has seen how this virus has crippled some of the most advanced health systems, in countries that have a social safety net where most people have access to running water and space to self-isolate. This is simply not possible for people in many of the countries where we typically work. Our greatest concern is if the virus takes hold in places with weaker health systems with vulnerable people who can’t protect themselves. International solidarity will be crucial, whilst the response to COVID-19 will have to be tailored to every setting, community, and local capacities. 

“Today, all levels of MSF are impacted, bringing new challenges, and requiring even more collaboration and creativity to find solutions. We’re adapting as quick as we can to   prepare for COVID—19 in our projects around the world, despite the travel restrictions and supply shortages,” concludes Dr Christou.

Wherever we are in the world we are working to maintain healthcare activities in an increasingly challenging context of travel restrictions and constraints on the movement of goods.


Interviews from Italy

Today there are about thirty MSF staff involved in the response to coronavirus in Italy.

Attached below are two written interviews. Chiara Lepora, MSF field coordinator in the Lombardy region, gives a moving account of the hospital staff who've been working round the clock on the frontline of the epidemic since the beginning. Claudia Lodesani, MSF emergency coordinator and MSF Italy president, focuses on the public health approach needed to tackle this epidemic.

Excerpt - Chiara Lepora, MSF field coordinator, said:
“We have a team of around 25 people working here in the Lombardy region, particularly around the hospitals in Lodi, Codogno and Sant'Angelo. The health system here is very advanced, but the virus has outpaced all attempts to deal with the increasing number of cases. The hospitals are at their limit. In the emergency room at the Lodi hospital there are now eighty beds. Yet even with that extra capacity, the only way to refer a new patient in is if another patient recovers or dies.

There’s a small bakery near the entrance of Lodi hospital and yesterday I got talking to the baker. She opens from 5 o’clock in the morning so she can give a coffee and croissant to the medical staff who are coming off the night shift. She told me that a lot of the doctors and nurses get their coffee and then go and sit in a corner and start crying. They cry there so they can get it out of the way and can then go home and care for their families and not show how hard it is." 


Notes to editors

Photos and b-roll from France, Italy, and Belgium are available from MSF's media database here: If you have any problem accessing the media, please contact us directly.

We also have photos and b-roll from Spain which is not yet available on the database, please just ask.

For more information on our Covid-19 response in Italy:

For more information on our Covid-19 response in Spain:

For more information on our response in France:

For more information on our response in Greece:


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