Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has begun treating COVID-19 patients in Tijuana, the epicenter of the outbreak in Baja California, northwestern Mexico, the international medical humanitarian organization announced today.
Tijuana, which borders San Diego, has the largest number of cases of COVID-19 in Baja California and one of the highest numbers of deaths in Mexico.
“We will be providing support to health institutions [by] relieving the hospital burden in Tijuana,” said Maria Rodríguez Rado, MSF’s COVID-19 emergency response coordinator in Mexico. “Through this support we want to relieve the enormous workload of health workers who are responding to this pandemic and help alleviate the suffering of patients.”
MSF’s response—which is in collaboration with Baja California state Secretary of Health and Apoyemos Tijuana (Let's Support Tijuana), a civil society organization—will focus on the treatment of non-critical COVID-19 patients transferred from the Tijuana General Hospital. The facility where MSF is working was set up by Apoyemos Tijuana in a newly opened basketball gym and is fully equipped to function as an extension of the Tijuana General Hospital, with MSF responsible for medical operations.
The facility was designed to ensure both medical staff and patients are protected from infection. It also has rest areas, bathrooms and showers for patients, a special care area, a sanitation area for medical staff, and each bed is equipped with oxygen.
The MSF team will consist of 120 people, 60 percent of whom will be medical personnel recruited from parts of Mexico that have been less affected by the coronavirus outbreak. “We have [done this] because we know there is a great need for health personnel in [Tijuana’s] public health structures,” said Rodríguez Rado.
At full capacity, MSF’s team in Tijuana will be able to care for up to 50 patients at a time. MSF will only treat patients who are transferred directly by the Secretary of Health of Tijuana General Hospital, in order to make room in the hospital for patients in more critical condition. An integral part of MSF’s treatment will be psychosocial care for patients and their families. Mental health care is an important part of MSF’s projects across Mexico.
Tijuana is home to many asylum seekers, migrants, and people who have been deported from the US—many of whom are homeless and don’t have access to adequate health care.
MSF offered its support because the health care system in Tijuana is struggling to cope. “We want to support the people of Tijuana and their medical professionals who are working on the front lines to stop this pandemic,” said Rodríguez Rado. “We also seek [to assist] those who are extremely vulnerable and excluded from health care.”
MSF teams will also implement infection prevention and control activities in the facility to prevent further spread of the coronavirus and ensure the safety of health workers.
In Mexico, MSF has adapted its operations in response to the coronavirus outbreak, focusing on those most vulnerable to the disease, including migrants and asylum seekers in Tenosique, Coatzacoalcos, Mexico City, Nuevo Laredo, Tijuana, Reynosa, and Matamoros, and communities affected by violence in Guerrero.