One year ago today, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic. At Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), providing medical care during epidemics is at the core of what we do. But suddenly, we faced multiple challenges all at once across our projects in more than 70 countries. We had to find a way to respond to outbreaks of this new disease, while keeping our regular medical programs up and running, and reacting to other emergencies. Brice de le Vingne led MSF’s task force for COVID-19 in 2020 and now heads the emergency desk, which continues to run interventions to confront the pandemic. Here, he reflects on the evolution of this unprecedented global emergency.
In January 2020, MSF’s first COVID-19 project opened in Hong Kong, focusing on health education for vulnerable people, such as the elderly and those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. By March, the epidemic was spreading like wildfire across Europe. MSF launched projects in some of the most severely affected countries, including Belgium, Spain, and Italy. We provided support to hospitals, sending in medical teams with experience responding to outbreaks of infectious diseases. We also did what we could to train our colleagues how to keep themselves safe, knowing how exposed health staff can be during outbreaks.
From March onward, as the epidemic continued to spread around the world, MSF followed in its tracks. We opened new projects and adapted existing ones, as we always do during epidemics, but this time on a global scale.