Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is putting its knowledge and experience in epidemic management at the service of Spanish society and the health authorities to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

"Managing the epidemic requires a humanitarian emergency mindset to seek out-of-the-box solutions to increasing case management capacity, reducing deaths and curbing contagion," says David Noguera, president of MSF Spain.

The organisation is supporting and advising health authorities, such as the Ministry of Health and health departments, in the development of prototypes of temporary units to expand hospital capacity. MSF will also assist in identifying locations to set them up in Madrid, Catalonia and Vitoria.

The two health units supporting the Severo Ochoa hospitals, in Leganés, and Príncipe de Asturias, in Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, have a capacity of more than 200 beds. Paula Farias, MSF’s coordinator in Madrid, says the objective of these support structures is “to decongest the emergency services allowing them to treat patients who are most severely affected by COVID while these units can attend to the less serious cases.” Patients who require hospitalization will be transferred to the ICUs.

The Severo Ochoa hospital support unit, located in the Carlos Sastre pavilion in Leganés, was set up in coordination with the local council and the hospital itself. The structure has 120 beds. The Alcalá de Henares health unit is under the joint coordination of MSF, the Príncipe de Asturias Hospital and the University of Acalá, where the pavilion is located. This structure has 82 beds.

The medical staff of both units will be provided by the hospitals, which will manage the facilities with the support of the municipalities, the Ministry of Health and the local community. Once the patient care units become functional, MSF will provide logistical support and a monitoring team for each of them.

"We will have a medical officer in both units to offer training to medical staff in aspects such as the management system for this type of structure during a health crisis and everything related to the use of protective clothing," explains Farias. "Once the support unit is fully operational, the coordination will be completely in the hands of the health centres."

Operations in Barcelona

In Catalonia, MSF supports and advises health authorities at regional and local levels, including Cat Salut (the Catalan health service) and the Barcelona city council.

In this city, MSF is advising and supporting the Barcelona Health Consortium in the expansion of hospitals in the city, which include the Hospital del Mar and the Vall d’Hebron. The organisation is giving strategic support for the development of external health units, which will be set up in pavilions assigned to each of the hospitals. Patients affected by COVID-19 will receive care in these units, thereby decongesting the emergency services and intensive care units of these centres so they can focus on the most seriously ill.

MSF is also advising the boards of directors of nursing homes on case management, as well as risk assessment and the implementation of hygiene and protection measures to reduce transmission within their establishments. “We have a team visiting these centres and identifying the most pressing needs. Our intention is to develop an assistance model, tools and protocols that will be available to all residences in the state and will be made available on a web portal," says Noguera,

“We have three aims: to support the coordination platforms responding to this epidemic with our experience in managing similar health crises; to help decongest hospitals and health centres so they can focus on caring for the most severely ill; and to strengthen the protection of our elderly people, who are among the most vulnerable groups in this epidemic.”

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