Emergency Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

by International Medical Corps
Emergency Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Our Philippines team’s journey from their office in Manila to Siargao Island, in the municipality of Del Carmen, was challenging and tiring. It required seven hours of travel and three different modes of transportation—a flight from Manila to Butuan, followed by a drive from Butuan to Surigao, then another two hours of travel via ferry to Siargao Island. But the journey didn’t end there. The team’s goal was to reach Halian Island—one of the most isolated places in the country—to deliver COVID-19 vaccinations and primary healthcare services.

Halian is a small island roughly 20 kilometers off the coast of Surigao, with a population of about 1,100. Unlike other islands in the Philippines, where nearby islands and mangroves act as buffers against the waves, Halian faces the ocean—and COVID-19—on its own.

After arriving in Siargao, the Municipal Health Officer of Del Carmen recommended that our team stay overnight, because the waves were too rough to navigate safely to Halian.

The following day, our team left while the sky was still dark. By daybreak, they had reached the Rural Health Unit (RHU) office of Del Carmen, where they collected supplies—including vaccines and equipment—and then traveled to the pier of Del Carmen, where a small boat was waiting to take them to Halian. With two outriggers on each side to balance the boat against the waves, the eight-person boat skimmed gently across the water. An hour later, they arrived in Halian.

Life on the Island

Halian residents lined up outside a local indoor basketball court that was converted for the day into a vaccination center, while our team assembled vaccination stations inside. Some children were accompanied by their parents; others arrived with a barangay (district) health worker.

“We learned about the free vaccination in the barangay yesterday through the bandilyo,” says Ms. Escobido, a Halian resident who accompanied her daughter to the vaccination site. A bandilyo is a type of announcement made by local barangay officials through a megaphone in the barangay hall or while they walk through the barangay.

Escobido’s daughter received her first dose from the RHU two months ago, but she hadn’t received her second dose because the RHU didn’t have the resources to return to Halian. In addition, Halian’s sea ambulances were destroyed by Typhoon Rai a few months ago and haven’t been replaced.

“We want to avoid getting diseases, and our children want to attend school in person. Gasoline for a private boat is too expensive for us, so we are thankful that International Medical Corps came here to vaccinate us,” says Escobido.

“Our island is far. This kind of thing is helpful,” adds Ms. Corbera, another Halian resident and mother of two. Corbera arrived at the vaccination site early to get her newborn checked by Dr. Chun, a volunteer doctor with International Medical Corps’ Philippines team. “Many of us have kids, and for a mother like me, who just gave birth, this is a big help.”

The RHU of Del Carmen was also grateful that our team was there.

“We’re grateful to International Medical Corps for the manpower,” says Ms. Tan, a public health nurse from Del Carmen who traveled with our team to Halian. “We only have one doctor for Del Carmen, which has a population of more than 20,000. With International Medical Corps’ assistance, we can reach far-flung areas we could not have otherwise.”

An Unexpected Challenge

This partnership shone even brighter when Tan and the International Medical Corps staff insisted on staying in Halian into the late afternoon, just in case more people wanted to get vaccinated. However, it was raining when they finished, and local boatmen deemed the waves unsafe for travel.

Thanks to the generosity of the local barangay, Tan and our team spent the night in the barangay hall, hoping the weather would be better by morning. But the next day, the drizzle of rain had turned into howling winds and heavy rains—a low-pressure area had suddenly appeared. They waited several hours until the boatmen said it was safe to travel, and then packed up and boarded the small boat.

As the boat trip began, conditions worsened. The boat flew up in the air, bouncing among the waves. Thankfully, the skilled boatmen knew how to guide the boat safely back to Siargao Island.

Despite the distance and the weather, International Medical Corps is committed to returning to Halian Island and other remote islands like it to conduct COVID-19 vaccinations and other health programs. As long as there are people in need, International Medical Corps will do its best to reach them, through the ocean and beyond the storm.

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Jacqueline demonstrates good handwashing skills
Jacqueline demonstrates good handwashing skills

Six-year-old Jacqueline is experiencing lockdown at home in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I wish our school could be opened, but the government closed it, and I feel sad that I cannot go to school,” she says. “I miss my teacher and friends. When we were in school, I used to play different games with my friends. I often think of them. Before the coronavirus, the school gave us different knowledge each day, but now that has stopped. I hope it will start again soon.”

Thanks to International Medical Corps community health workers, Jacqueline was able to continue some of her learning at a safe space for children in Butembo. “Community health workers came to our child-friendly space and taught us that the coronavirus, what we call COVID-19, is a tiny organism that we cannot see with our eyes. They also told us it spreads when sick people cough and sneeze near others,” she explains. “People who are sick have symptoms like cough and fever, and have trouble breathing.”

The community health workers taught the children at the safe space how to protect themselves and others from catching COVID-19. “Some of the things we learned are to wash our hands with soap and water, to wave to people instead of shaking hands and to stay at least one meter away from people,” Jacqueline says.

But Jacqueline—who wants to become a doctor when she grows up—knows that there are challenges in following the community health workers’ advice. “We know we have to wash our hands, but water is very scarce here,” she says. “Therefore, it is very difficult for us to get enough water and soap to wash our hands and protect ourselves from the virus. On behalf of the children in the safe space, I would like to say, please bring us clean water and soap so we can keep clean and protect ourselves from this virus.”

Still, she’s grateful for the lessons she’s learned at the child-friendly space. “I thank the community health workers… at our safe space in Butembo because they also taught us how to protect others and ourselves.”

International Medical Corps is grateful for the support of GlobalGiving and its community of donors. Together, we are combatting the COVID-19 pandemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and around the world.

Our team conducting a COIVD-19-related training
Our team conducting a COIVD-19-related training
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Our team provides a COVID-19 training in Cameroon
Our team provides a COVID-19 training in Cameroon

Today, nearly two years since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, the world has surpassed more than 438 million cases and more than 5.9 million deaths attributed to the virus. On a worldwide level, cases of the Omicron variant appear to have peaked, with daily cases sitting about half what they were one month ago, but still twice as high as during any other peak. In addition, daily deaths also appear to have peaked. A mixture of widespread immunity—both vaccine-derived and natural—and the less severe nature of Omicron have led to considerably lower death rates than previous waves. However, due to the unprecedented contagiousness of the Omicron variant, the total daily deaths remain very high. Still, many governments worldwide are easing their COVID-19 restrictions in an attempt to learn to live with the virus.

Our teams around the world have been working tirelessly to bring healthcare and hope to the communities they serve–a job made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic, but our accomplishments have been great.

We have screened more than 7.9 million people for COVID-19 at our global missions and have distributed more than 32.5 million pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection prevention and control (IPC) items to supported health facilities.

We have trained more than 29,000 frontline healthcare professionals on COVID-19 prevention and control measures.

In South Sudan, our team created an eight-bed Level 1 ICU–the first ever in the country that is accessible to general public. According to Dr. Abdou, International Medical Corps’ Medical Director in South Sudan, “It had made a very big difference, and it has brought hope that South Sudan can start thinking about how to expand critical-care capacity. That is a big impact for the future of the health system in this country.”

This is just a small snapshot of the impact International Medical Corps’ teams have made around the world with the support of GlobalGiving and its community of donors. Thank you!

Our team maintains intensive care unit equipment
Our team maintains intensive care unit equipment
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A data collector surveys a community member
A data collector surveys a community member

Around the world, vaccines are one of the most studied, successful and cost-effective ways to improve health outcomes and save lives. However, vaccines work only if people recognize the need and value of immunization, and agree to be immunized.

Although approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, mass vaccination in Pakistan remains a challenge. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccine hesitancy is one of the 10 most severe threats to global health. The WHO also reported that there are three main reasons behind refusal or unwillingness to be vaccinated: inconvenience in accessing vaccines, complacency and lack of trust.

Pakistanis have traditionally shown high levels of vaccine hesitancy, making it difficult to eliminate the spread of highly infectious diseases.

“There is a need to enhance public trust and share evidence-based knowledge on vaccine efficacy and safety through major sources of COVID-19 information, such as television, social media and healthcare workers,” says Dr. Khalid, Associate Professor at Khyber Medical University in Peshawar. “The community can be convinced to get vaccinated if more published data on vaccine efficacy and safety is available.”

To identify and assess the reasons behind vaccine hesitancy in Pakistan, International Medical Corps worked with Pakistan’s Department of Health in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Khyber Medical University in Peshawar to survey nearly 200,000 people.

The survey revealed that the majority of the respondents received information about COVID-19 vaccines from television, social media and healthcare workers. They said that healthcare workers are the most trustworthy source of information because they believe doctors are knowledgeable and informed.

However, when several healthcare workers were interviewed, they expressed concern about not receiving up-to-date and accurate information about the virus.

“Lack of correct information among healthcare workers harms vaccination drives and leads to a higher refusal rate,” explains Dr. Bhisham, Program Director with International Medical Corps in Pakistan. “We need to raise awareness and train healthcare workers at every facility to share accurate information with their communities. Also, religious and community leaders must be involved, as they are important, trusted sources of information.”

Of those surveyed:

  • 70% believed there are other ways to prevent COVID-19 instead of the vaccine;
  • 43% were hesitant to receive the vaccine;
  • 28% of respondents were worried about experiencing vaccine side effects; and
  • 24% have not been vaccinated because they are waiting for new, more effective vaccines.

Based on the results, International Medical Corps has made a number of recommendations to the Provincial Health Ministry of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa aimed at reducing vaccine hesitancy such as ensuring healthcare workers have the most accurate information, implementing mobile vaccination campaigns, sharing images and videos of public figures getting vaccinated, using media to counter misinformation and ensuring media outlets engage in responsible reporting.

With support from GlobalGiving and its community of donors, our teams in Pakistan, and around the world, can continue to combat vaccine hesitancy and help bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Khalid trains the data collectors
Dr. Khalid trains the data collectors
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A pharmacist takes stock of available medicines
A pharmacist takes stock of available medicines

With the global COVID-19 vaccine rollout underway, International Medical Corps is using our expertise in community health to mount effective vaccination campaigns in the countries where we work. With our decades of experience managing outbreaks of infectious disease—from helping to eradicate wild polio in Africa, to supporting cholera vaccinations in Haiti, to treating malaria in Yemen—we’ve seen how challenging it can be to deliver critical healthcare in remote areas and demanding environments. Here’s a look at what goes into effective last-mile delivery of vaccines and how International Medical Corps is supporting worldwide immunization efforts with staff, training, supplies and education.

The phrase, “last mile,” describes the last leg of any product’s journey to its destination. This final journey could be just a few miles long—from a local warehouse to your front door, for example—or it could extend thousands of miles across challenging terrain. The last mile looks different for every product; when it comes to medication, it can get especially complicated. Many medicines, including vaccines, must be kept at consistent cold temperatures, which is where the concept of “cold chain” comes in.

Cold chain involves the requirement for refrigeration to be constantly maintained from product creation to disbursement. If this chain is broken, and the product’s temperature rises above or falls below what it needs to stay viable, then the product’s shelf life shortens. In the worst cases, the product becomes unusable.

“The cold chain has to be uninterrupted from the day the vaccine is manufactured until it’s administered to a patient,” explains Nikola, Head of Global Procurement at International Medical Corps. “Imagine an invisible rope running all the way from the factory through ports and airports to warehouses, and finally to the patient. That rope cannot be cut anywhere.”

Fortunately, International Medical Corps has supported last-mile delivery of vaccines throughout our 37-year history. Our teams around the world are ready for this challenge.

With the support of GlobalGiving and its community of donors, International Medical Corps’ teams around the world continue to help COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

Our team administers a COVID-19 vaccine in Jordan
Our team administers a COVID-19 vaccine in Jordan
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International Medical Corps

Location: Los Angeles, CA - USA
Project Leader:
Kimberly Laney
Los Angeles, CA United States

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