A COVID-19 Message from the Dominican Republic

Elisa Ventura Avila Zapata

I wake up every day, worried that the news will be bad. I am in continual contact with our project partners and we are doing all we can together to prepare for the possibility of a wide-spread deadly outbreak. In mid-March the country had only 21 cases, now in late April the Ministry of Health has recorded 4,964 cases.

I am grateful that we recruited and trained a strong network of Community Health Workers (CHWs) that serve the community with health education and provision of basic medications through small pharmacies. When we began the La Loma training program in 2009, we never imagined the threat of a pandemic like this one. I remember a class taught by an adjunct college professor that showed how illnesses “migrate” across the globe as populations move about. Now, that lesson has certainly hit home.

Our mobile clinic that provides daily consultations to 15 batey communities around Quisqueya was suspended due to social distancing and assembly restrictions put in place by the government. Without the clinic, the bateyes do not have access to primary care and if children or family members get sick, travel to the nearest hospital is difficult due to limited transportation options and high transportation fees.

The bateyes of Quisqueya have a strong network of Community Health Workers (CHWs). I continue to work closely with them to provide COVID training using our newly developed COVID-19 curriculum, posters and brochures. Because I cannot hold in-person trainings, I have been conducting sessions over WhatsApp. It is working well because our CHWs are very committed to their jobs.

The CHWs have been invaluable during this time without the mobile clinic, since they provide education and support, and provide basic medicines to patients who experience fever and colds. MFH has sent us additional medications to treat chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes and asthma. This has allowed low-income community members with these pre-existing conditions to access services that would otherwise be inaccessible during this time. Sadly, there are many needs that go unmet due to the pandemic. These include treatment and follow up for malnourished children, provision of new sanitation facilities, and postpartum services for new mothers. I am very worried about the outcomes if these services do not return soon.

Some think our climate favors us, but it seems like the virus is growing stronger since new cases and the number of deaths continue to increase. It is startling to see that many people still do not take security measures, despite the deadly threat of this disease, I wish I could reach them all and convince them to change their ways.

Despite the anxiety that this pandemic creates, I strive to find positive examples of human goodness and rely on my faith to get me through each day. My wish is that you will be able to do the same, and I pray that this will all be behind us soon. Please stay safe.

- - Elisa Ventura Avila Zapata is Medicines for Humanity (MFH) Program Services Coordinator, Dominican Republic. She lives in San Pedro de Macoris, where MFH has its DR office

A COVID-19 Message from Haiti

Dusson St. JeanI live in Haiti, a country where people are always out and about, socializing and gregariously living life. If you’ve ever been to Port-au-Prince, you’ve seen the crazy traffic patterns that go every which way in a frenzied free-for-all fashion. The popular mode of public transportation here are the Tap-Taps - - open air small buses and pick-up trucks retrofitted with awnings and benches that line the truck beds. They are close quarters, with many people, squeezing on board for short distances.

My country has been the victim of many natural disasters. The political climate can be volatile at times. People are outspoken and proud, despite all we have gone through as a nation. Now, I fear we are about to be tested again. COVID-19 is here!

As of April 20th 2020 Haiti had 57 cases of COVID-19, 40 of those were brought into the country and 17 are local transmissions. We know that the infectious disease experts tell us that there is an exponential consequence we must accept. In the model, each single case leads to three more, and those three multiply over again, unless… we can convince people to avoid social contact and take the steps necessary to protect themselves. This is not easy to do in this culture.

Haiti began implementing social distancing procedures and increased hygiene promotion in mid-March to prevent the local spread of the virus. This included limiting services at banks, markets, and local business, closing schools and encouraging increased hand washing. Our project partners are limiting the number of patients that can enter the clinics at one time. With help from Medicines for Humanity, we are providing personal protective equipment for clinic staff and training our Community Health Workers to conduct community education using our new COVID-19 curriculum, and distributing posters and informational brochures created in Creole.

Although there are new rules and regulations in place about not gathering and social distancing, it is hard for Haitians to follow these requirements given the communal nature of our society. I live outside of Siebert, a community west of Port-au-Prince. It is still common to see groups of people gather each evening to play and watch soccer. They don’t wear masks. They don’t stay at least 6 feet apart. This is very bad, because they are risking public safety and, ultimately, the safety of our families. Together with our partners, their health staff, our community health workers, and the Ministry of Health we must continue to get the word out and teach people about the severity of this virus and the importance of preventing the spread of illness. We are grateful to Medicines for Humanity and all our donors who make it possible to print and distribute the informational materials, and for helping us purchase personal protective equipment and basic medicines to treat early symptoms of COVID-19. May God bless us all and keep us safe.

- - Dusson St. Jean is Medicines for Humanity (MFH) Program Services Coordinator, Haiti. He and his wife have three school-aged children, twin girls and a boy. he works out of the MFH office in Port-au-Prince.

A COVID-19 Message from Cameroon

Living here in Cameroon during this worldwide coronavirus pandemic can be very isolating. We read and learned about the rapid spread of the disease in China, then Italy and across Europe, and now in the United States, and it makes people afraid that we will be next. Recently, I heard from Sr. Jethro and Sr. Jean Bernard, our partners at St. Martin De Porres Catholic General Hospital in Njinikom, and as they told this to me, they asked me to share it with all.

Although we want to take precautions and protect everyone, personal protective equipment was very hard to come by and public health informational materials were practically non-existent. That is why we are so grateful to Medicines for Humanity. You sent us critically-needed equipment and materials for the staff working at our satellite health centers in Ngwah and Elimeghong, both serving our joint maternal/child survival health projects in the North West Region of Cameroon.

We had yet to receive anything from the government and anxiety was rising with each passing day. The donations from Medicines for Humanity have truly been an enormous blessing. We have sensitized the population, the staff and the transport drivers about the pandemic using the flyers, the hand gel, the buckets for washing of hands, the sprayer with disinfectant mixture (bleach and water) to spray the cars and ambulance and many others.

Your delivery arrived on Sunday, April 5th, the day we also received our first suspected case of COVID-19 at the hospital. We set up all the personal protective equipment for the staff and the driver using the gowns, boots, sprayer, and gloves - - all donated by MFH, in addition to basic medicines to treat early symptoms. We felt so privileged, so confident, and so blessed. This reduced the fear of the doctor and the team that treated the patient as the risk of infection to them was so greatly reduced. God bless Medicines for Humanity for being so timely and so kind to us.

We pray our collaboration continues to save lives and impact others.

I have tears in my eyes as I share this story with you. We must all continue to support and help each other through this difficult and challenging time.

Please stay safe,

Olivia Ambang, Medicines for Humanity Program Assistant, Yaounde, Cameroon

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