Spring 2020: Responding to the coronavirus pandemic

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Alert is a quarterly magazine published by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF-USA) that features compelling stories and photography from our work around the world. Below is an excerpt from MSF-USA Board President Africa Stewart's introduction to the Spring 2020 issue (Vol 21. No. 1.), Spring 2020: Responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dear Friends, 

I hope you all are staying safe and healthy in the midst of this coronavirus pandemic. I urge those of you who can stay home to do so, in order to keep everyone safer. And for all the health workers and other essential workers out there who are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders right now, thank you.

Our teams at Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are used to dealing with emergencies, but we’ve never experienced anything on this scale. This pandemic affects nearly all our medical projects around the world, whether directly or indirectly. We are adapting to meet the extraordinary challenges presented by COVID-19. We are also fighting to sustain our lifesaving medical projects and care for tens of thousands of patients with other urgent needs.

West

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As you’ll see in this special issue of Alert, our response to the new coronavirus began in February with the delivery of vital personal protective equipment to China’s Wuhan Jinyintan hospital, at the epicenter of the outbreak. We recognized right away that the most marginalized communities are likely to be among those most at risk. A team in Hong Kong got to work providing health education and mental health support for vulnerable groups, including refugees, asylum seekers, street cleaners, and the visually impaired.

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We also provide psychosocial support to our teams to help them get through these stressful times. We are confronting many impossible dilemmas—including how to move our staff and supplies when countries are closing their borders, what projects may have to shut down to make space for this new emergency, and how to ensure the safety of refugees who don’t have access to clean water or enough room to breathe, let alone the luxury of social distancing.

Even as we are grappling with this new pandemic, we are dealing with measles, malaria, and malnutrition. And, of course, babies are still being born. War wounds still need attention. People living with HIV or tuberculosis, or both, need longer-term support.

COVID-19 is a scary disease, affecting rich and poor, young and old, from Asia to the Americas. It reminds us how intertwined we are, how our health and wellbeing depend on those around us. We are truly all in this together now. And we will get through this crisis, thanks to the tireless efforts of health care workers around the world.

To my friends and colleagues who chose a stable position in their local community instead of the rough unknown of work abroad with MSF, I understand that you did not sign up for this assignment. Doctors and nurses in some of the richest countries in the world are now facing ethical dilemmas around access to health care and scarcity of supplies, familiar problems in many of the countries where MSF works. We will get through this together. 

We have always been an organization committed to finding a way to go, or stay, where we are most needed and do what needs to be done. Thank you for supporting us as we confront this unprecedented emergency.

Be well.

Sincerely,


Dr. Africa Stewart