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MSF in Guatemala, 2006
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In October 2005, tens of thousands of people throughout Central America lost their homes, livelihoods and access to clean water when tropical storm Stan struck the region, causing landslides, flooding lowlands, contaminating drinking wells and displacing an estimated 30,000 people. Around 1.5 million people were directly affected. Although the Guatemalan government responded rapidly, help was needed to reach all of the areas hit by the storm.
MSF was one of the first international organizations to arrive, bringing 11.5 tonnes of relief materials to the Atitlán Lake area, including basic emergency medical materials, blankets, mattresses and drinkable water. Within one week, MSF had provided 60,000 litres of drinking water and first aid for people living in shelters in dozens of communities in Atitlán, Chiquimulilla, Coatepeque, San Marcos and Escuintla municipalities.
Providing post-emergency assistance
Once the initial emergency phase was over, MSF focused on rehabilitating water systems, fixing infrastructure and resettling families. MSF also offered mental health support to people traumatised by the disaster in a number of locations and provided medical consultations in cooperation with local doctors.
A large part of the intervention involved the distribution of items such as hygiene kits to help reduce the possibility of waterborne diseases. Overall, MSF distributed 5000 kits to nearly 25,000 people in one month and gave out more than 15,000 mosquito nets to prevent malaria. MSF also set up an epidemiological surveillance system, based on a network of health centers, to monitor for outbreaks of Hepatitis A, malaria, dengue fever and diarrhoea. In the months following the storm, there was no significant increase justifying a medical intervention.
Helping those with HIV/AIDS
Approximately 61,000 Guatemalans are living with HIV/AIDS. Despite external support, national HIV/AIDS programs have been slow in starting and national health institutions have done little to address the AIDS pandemic. There is a lack of specialist centers and staff, and HIV/AIDS care has been highly centralised, available only in Guatemala City.
MSF provides HIV/AIDS care in the city’s Yaloc clinic, where 4000 medical consultations were performed and 803 patients were receiving life-extending antiretrovirals (ARVs) by the end of 2005. MSF is also advocating for planned treatment protocols for patients co-infected with HIV and TB.
Halting the spread of a deadly influenza
In March 2006, MSF responded to an outbreak of influenza A in Roosevelt Hospital, which affected immuno-compromised HIV patients and killed more than 20 people. MSF provided vaccines for hospital staff and patients who were able to provide a good immune response. Vaccinations were also sent for hospital staff in Coatepeque and Puerto Barrios.
Handing over projects for HIV/AIDS, Chagas and street kids
MSF has been promoting decentralisation of HIV/AIDS services to provide better access to people in remote areas such as Puerto Barrios, on the Caribbean coast. During 2005, MSF made significant progress integrating all aspects of care (counselling, diagnosis, treatment for opportunistic infections, ARV treatment and follow-up) at all levels of healthcare delivery. This project will be handed over to the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the national AIDS program in 2006.
Collaborating with local organizations, MSF has been providing comprehensive HIV/ AIDS care in the town of Coatepeque and has begun the process of handing over the project (2000 patients, 500 on ARVs) to the MOH.
In the remote town of Olopa, MSF has been testing and treating people with Chagas disease, which can be fatal without early treatment. MSF in 2005/2006 screened almost 8000 children aged 15 and under, and treated the 104 children found to have the disease. Local staff have been trained to take on these activities and MSF will close this project in December 2006.
MSF’s project for street children in Guatemala City’s Tzité clinic performed 2702 medical and 719 psychological consultations in 2005. In mid-2006, MSF organised a regional symposium to share the team’s seven-year experience with academics and practitioners, and plans to withdraw from this project at the end of the year.
After reaching a total of 11,000 students in 14 schools in Coatepeque, a sexual education program was handed over to the Ministry of Education in February 2006.
MSF has worked in Guatemala since 1984.