As COVID-19 spreads cross the world, MSF is very concerned about how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect people in countries with already fragile health systems and vulnerable communities worldwide. In many of the places where we work, there is limited capacity to respond to an influx of patients with a new disease that may require intensive care.
Our key priority is to keep our regular medical programmes running for the tens of thousands of patients and extremely vulnerable communities we help support around the world. Meanwhile, MSF emergency teams are responding on multiple fronts—caring for patients, conducting health education, raising awareness on mental health, and providing training for vital infection prevention and control measures in health facilities around the world.
In Hong Kong, we are providing health education and raising awareness on mental health for vulnerable groups. Staff in health facilities in Cambodia have received training. MSF has also contributed to the development on national treatment protocols. In Papua New Guinea staff in health facilities have received training on infection prevention control, and our teams have undertaken screening and triage of people with potential cases of COVID-19 in 22 provinces.
In Timurgara, northern Pakistan, an MSF team is running an isolation ward and screening people for the virus in a number of departments in the local hospital.
In South Africa, we have sent staff from our existing projects to assist with the COVID-19 response in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces. We are also helping with contact tracing, and the development and dissemination of health promotion materials.
In Burkina Faso, we are providing patient support in Fada health centre. We are also training Ministry of Health staff and conducting disease surveillance and health promotion activities.
We are supporting the management of a COVID-19 unit in Bamako, Mali, within the grounds of the hospital where we run an oncology programme. The unit includes eight intensive care beds.
In Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, we are supporting the Ministry of Health at a transit centre to screen and refer people with coronavirus symptoms to the care centre. In Bouake, training for health workers and screening at the city’s entry points are underway. Water and sanitation activities are also being implemented.
In Tanzania, our health promotion team in Nduta refugee camp is raising awareness among the community on hygiene and best health practices.
Whether we’ll be able to make similar offers to other countries will depend on the nature of the pandemic but also on our capacity to send staff.
In March, we started supporting the COVID-19 response in Europe. Our teams are working in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, France, Norway, Greece and Belgium.
Our decades of experience in delivering medical humanitarian aid in countries where infectious diseases are endemic enable us to offer strategic advice ─ notably on infection prevention and control measures ─ technical support and training.
MSF doctors, nurses and hygiene experts are working with European hospitals, homes for the elderly and supporting healthcare workers and local authorities to implement protective measures.
In Spain, we have also set up health units to receive patients less severely affected by COVID-19 to decongest the hospitals’ emergency and intensive care services. We also work in northern Italy, in collaboration with local health authorities and health personnel, on a number of activities, including disease prevention and care for patients.
We are supporting the diagnosis, isolation and care of vulnerable people such as migrants in Belgium (Brussels, Hainaut and Antwerp), France (Paris and the Île-de-France region) and Switzerland (Geneva). We have started similar activities in our projects in the migrant hotspots of Greece’s islands Samos and Lesbos. In Lesbos, we have also devised an emergency plan for Moria refugee camp in case the disease spreads on the island. We are in discussion with the Greek Ministry of Health to see how we can coordinate with them and offer more support.
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
Our staff are providing training and technical support in the facilities we support in Azaz and Idlib, Syria. In Iraq, our teams’ focus is on treating people with COVID-19 who do not require intensive care. We are also improving infection prevention and control measures in a Baghdad-based COVID-19 treatment centre.
In Yemen, we assisted the Ministry of Health in setting up an isolation facility in Aden. In Tripoli, Libya, we trained hospital staff in infection control and patient care.
Karin Huster, MSF Field Coordinator in Hong Kong, discusses MSF’s response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in the city.
The outbreak started in December 2019 in the Chinese province of Hubei. Much remains to be understood about the COVID-19, but we know that infection control measures are important for prevention. Dr Armand Sprecher, one of MSF’s Public Health specialists, explains what this means and the prevention measure in the videos below.
Coping with stress and anxiety during disease outbreak
The uncertainty and constant news about the outbreak take a toll on people’s mental health. Worrying about the unknown may make you restless, stressed, or you may experience difficulty in sleeping. But these reactions are normal in abnormal situations. The MSF experience in responding to different outbreaks has shown the importance of providing mental health support as part of our emergency work to help communities lead a normal life. In Hong Kong today, as part of our response to COVID-19 outbreak, our team has been disseminating information on simple coping mechanisms to help relax stressed body and mind amidst the pandemic to vulnerable groups.
Watch the video of MSF Psychologist Raimund Alber as he recommends “3 takes” to help you manage your stress.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, a virus which was discovered in December 2019 in China, and has been identified as a member of the family of coronaviruses. COVID-19 has now spread globally.
What is the virus that cause COVID-19?
The virus which led to the COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2, which is similar to the virus causes SARS. It was identified in December 2019 in China and is a member of the family coronaviruses. The coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, most of which are harmless for humans. Two types of most commonly known coronaviruses are Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which can cause severe lung infections.
Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 needs cells of living beings to multiply itself. This virus targets cells in the lungs, and other cells in the respiratory system too. Cells infected by the virus will produce more virus particles, which can then spread to other people by coughing and sneezing, for instance.
About the transmission and symptoms
How does the virus spread?
The main mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through infected respiratory droplets. The virus enters the human body through the mouth, nose or eyes. This can happen by breathing in infected droplets, or by touching with your hand a surface on which droplets have landed and then touching your eyes, mouth or nose. Hence, simple infection control measures such as hand-washing and cough and sneeze etiquette are effective and important for prevention.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. Some patients may have muscular pains, headache, confusion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing hospitalisation.
If someone is infected but has no symptoms, is there a high chance to get infected?
The main way the disease spreads is through respiratory droplets expelled by someone who is coughing. The risk of catching COVID-19 from someone with no symptoms at all is very low. However, many people with COVID-19 experience only mild and sometimes very mild symptoms. This is particularly true at the early stages of the disease. It is therefore possible to catch COVID-19 from someone who has, for example, just a mild cough and does not feel ill.
Are people with low immune systems more vulnerable to COVID-19?
People with weakened immune systems and people with conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease are also more vulnerable to serious illness. To boost your immune system, you need a balanced and proper diet, regular exercise, good personal hygiene, reduce stress and adequate rest.
About the vaccines and treatments
Is there a vaccine, drug or treatment for COVID-19?
Not yet. To date, there is no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-2019. However, those affected receive treatments to relieve their symptoms. Possible vaccines are under development.
How is the testing done for the disease?
Medical staff will take swabs from your nose and/or deep in your throat. It is also possible to collect sputum if you have a productive cough. The mucus then gets sent to a laboratory for testing. Results usually come back after several hours.
About prevention measures
How can I prevent myself from being infected?
Hand hygiene is paramount, so wash your hands often with soap and water. Use enough soap, and make sure all parts of both your hands are washed. Spend at least 20 seconds washing your hands. If there’s no visible dirt on your hands, an alcohol-based gel is also a good option.
If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, or with the inside of your elbow. Put used tissues in the bin immediately, just like used masks, and wash your hands.
A mask can be a good preventive measure to protect from breathing in the virus. However, its main use is to prevent transmitting the virus if you are sick. Only touch the strings of the mask when you take it off. Put it directly in a covered bin and wash your hands.