In response to the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, MSF emergency teams are responding on multiple fronts—caring for patients, conducting health promotion and mental health education, and providing training for vital infection prevention and control measures in health facilities around the world. We are also working with local authorities in many of the countries where we have medical projects to help prepare for the impact of COVID-19.
In Hong Kong, our team is reaching out to the vulnerable groups in the society to provide health education and simple coping mechanisms to manage stress and anxiety during this pandemic.
In Italy, MSF is supporting three hospitals in the north, the country’s epicentre of the outbreak, with IPC measures and patient care. In Codogno Hospital where the first Italian case was detected, our team is supporting the identification of patients and staff flow within the hospital, to help separate wards that could be contaminated from the wards less at risk.
In Spain, we are supporting the national and local health authorities by providing them with strategic advice to increase their capacity of case management, reduce mortality and prevent infection. To decongest the hospitals, MSF has set up temporary hospitals in a university and a sports centre to accommodate moderate patient cases near the capital Madrid.
In France and Belgium, we are supporting efforts to detect and manage COVID-19 cases amongst vulnerable populations such as homeless people, migrants and unaccompanied minors.
MSF is very concerned how this pandemic will affect people in countries with already fragile health systems. In most countries where MSF works, we are coordinating with the World Health Organization (WHO) and local ministries of health to see how MSF could help in a situation with a high number of COVID-19 patients. Given the size of this pandemic, it is clear that healthcare workers and patients need additional support and care. However, MSF’s ability to respond on the scale required will be limited and dependent on our ability to send staff.
On any given day, our team treats tens of thousands of patients for a variety of illnesses in our medical programmes around the world. We want to ensure continuous care for all patients where we work today, and that our medical teams are prepared in our projects for what may come.
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.