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Oct 1, 2020

Emerging Telehealth Needs in Puerto Rico

A provider uses a tablet for health education
A provider uses a tablet for health education

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico with a deadly force and crippled infrastructure. While it took nearly a full year to restore power to all parts of the island, residents in the rural areas continue to have challenges accessing vital services. Puerto Rico’s mountainous terrain can make traveling long distances difficult. As the island sought to recover economically and rebuild stronger, telehealth emerged as a tool for improving healthcare delivery in these rural areas and for improving the integration and digitization of health information.

So far in 2020, Puerto Rico has been navigating earthquakes, the COVID-19 pandemic and preparing for what is predicted to be yet another strong hurricane season.

Telehealth has been a key innovation to control the transmission of COVID-19 and reduce barriers to health during all of these concurrent disasters.

Hospital Perea in Mayaguez is a small facility with 118 beds that serves the historic town center of the third most populous municipality in Puerto Rico. Mayaguez was one of the first municipalities to see COVID-19 cases.

Marisol, Head Nurse at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Hospital Perea, used her personal cellphone to help isolated COVID-19 patients video chat with their families and discuss patient care plans with their close family members. However, as the hospital increased its infection prevention and control measures and the danger of COVID-19 grew, she was no longer able to bring her phone in and out of rooms with infected patients. Other staff members were struggling with similar concerns, like the hospital social worker who had also been contacting families through the video capabilities on her phone.

After hearing Marisol’s concerns, International Medical Corps provided 20 tablets to Hospital Perea to help improve infection prevention and control measures. Because dedicated tablets remain in the hospital’s ICU where they are used by healthcare professionals in personal protective equipment (PPE) and are not being brought into the homes of healthy hospital staff members, there is a reduced risk of spreading the virus.

The tablets have increased Hospital Perea’s telehealth capacity not only for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic but for future emergencies. The hospital uses the tablets across various departments to:

  • connect isolated patients with their friends and families
  • enhance the hospital’s health information technology
  • provide health guidance to patients
  • train staff on donning and doffing PPE, and more.

The ICU received five tablets which are used daily with patients hospitalized with COVID-19 or other serious conditions. Because the ICU does not allow any outside visitors, these tablets are the primary link patients have with their families. Marisol observed that when the patients are communicating with their families, their stress levels reduce substantially. She can visibly see improvement on heart and blood pressure monitors during these conversations.

With the support of the GlobalGiving community, International Medical Corps continues to help build capacity and resiliency across Puerto Rico.

Sep 21, 2020

Community Health Workers Help Protect Cameroonians

Misra raising awareness of COVID-19
Misra raising awareness of COVID-19

The first case of COVID-19 in Cameroon was reported on March 6, 2020. In April, a young Cameroonian named Misra joined International Medical Corps as a Community Health Worker at Timangolo refugee camp. Her job: to raise awareness of the virus and change community behavior to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Just like the rest of the world, the local community in Timangolo has had to adapt. "Before COVID-19, the refugee community observed Fulani cultural practices, such as shaking hands during greetings, using 'boutas' kettles during daily prayers and gathering during funerals, baptisms and meals," Misra explains. "My colleagues and I worked to educate the community on handwashing with soap, social distancing, mask wearing, and coughing or sneezing into one’s elbow."

Misra feels she is making a difference. "We have noticed a change in behavior. For example, people wear masks when they go out now, and the elderly do not go out as much as before," she says. "Community members have come to understand that if the barrier measures are not respected, they can end up contracting the disease if they come into contact with a sick person. All of these things are helping to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Timangolo."

"I feel proud," Misra says, "because the refugee community understands that the messages we share are not intended for them to abandon what is dear to them—it is simply a means to protect them."

Misra's success is an example of how training can save lives.

International Medical Corps is carrying out COVID-19 awareness raising activities, like those in Cameroon, and more in the some 30 countries where we operate.

As of September 18, according to the Johns Hopkins University dashboard, there have been more than 30 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 946,000 deaths globally. International Medical Corps launched an immediate response to the pandemic, and have since screened more than 920,821 people for COVID-19, distributed more than 11.6 million pieces of personal protective equipment and trained more than 12,281 frontline healthcare workers on COVID-19 prevention and control measures around the world.

Thanks to the support from the GlobalGiving community, our teams can continue to work with healthcare leaders, like Misra, to fight the global COVID-19 pandemic and provide lifesaving services around the world.

The community now practices social distancing
The community now practices social distancing
Sep 16, 2020

Dr. Joshua: The Optimistic COVID-19 Survivor

International Medical Corps' Dr. Joshua
International Medical Corps' Dr. Joshua

Being a doctor in South Sudan—a conflict-ridden, chronically insecure, abysmally poor country—is one of the most daunting professions on earth. Dr. Joshua, a South Sudanese medical professional in charge of International Medical Corps’ health facility in Juba’s “protection of civilians” camp, has faced many challenges over the past four-and-a-half years. When asked about the circumstances that he and his colleagues face on a daily basis, he says, with surprising lightheartedness, “We manage.” Then in May, Dr. Joshua encountered a new challenge: he contracted COVID-19.

He still does not know how he got it. As soon as reports started coming in about the pandemic, International Medical Corps took protective measures to ensure the safety of our staff around the world. He assumes he contracted the virus from a civilian who traveled to the market, where the first COVID-19 cases started appearing in early April.

In early May, Dr. Joshua came down with a severe headache. At first, this didn’t seem unusual—he sometimes gets headaches after long, stressful days. But he couldn’t sleep this one off. So he called his colleague and he told him to put on personal protective equipment (PPE) and come over to take a sample. When the test came back positive two days later, Dr. Joshua’s biggest worry was not his own health, but whether he would transmit the virus to others—particularly his patients with chronic illnesses.

By May 11, Dr. Joshua had developed a cough, high fever and chills, and our South Sudan team prepared an ambulance to take him to the COVID-19 treatment center. “During treatment, I wasn’t scared because there were a lot of people who took care of me and came and checked on me often,” he says. “I got a lot of support from my International Medical Corps colleagues in South Sudan and around the world, and lots of phone calls from my relatives and friends.”

Dr. Joshua could not be discharged until he had two consecutive negative test results, which finally happened on June 14—more than a month after the ambulance came to get him. He went back to work the very next day. “Coming back to work was very right,” he says. “I had a lot of welcoming from colleagues and the community, who told me how valuable I was to them for taking care of them.”

Across South Sudan, the number of COVID-19 cases is increasing every day, but health facilities have not yet been overwhelmed, as many people are choosing to stay home to heal, according to Dr. Joshua. International Medical Corps, which expanded the Juba Infectious Disease Unit in May and set up the country’s first and only intensive-care unit, remains vigilant to the pandemic’s threat and is prepared to respond rapidly.

Dr. Joshua remains positive and grateful. “I would like to send my gratitude to everyone who was concerned for my health from International Medical Corps, the Juba community and my colleagues who have been with me over my entire career,” he says. “I am very healthy and happy now.”

Thanks to the generous support of the GlobalGiving community, International Medical Corps continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in South Sudan.

Healthcare workers in South Sudan wearing PPE
Healthcare workers in South Sudan wearing PPE
 
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