Emergency Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

by International Medical Corps
Emergency Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19)
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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Female health workers raise COVID-19 awareness
Female health workers raise COVID-19 awareness

Rumors can be like viruses, spreading a disease of half-truths and lies, and damaging the health of communities. And during a pandemic, the power of rumors is magnified by the very real threat of disease and death.

“At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that misinformation was going to affect our COVID-19 response everywhere, fueling rumors about how and why the virus spreads, as well as promoting harmful remedies,” says Dr. Javed, Director of Emergency Response at International Medical Corps.

In Somalia, as part of our comprehensive, community-based COVID-19 response, International Medical Corps formed a task force of female health workers (FHWs) first to identify rumors and misinformation, and then to go into communities and share accurate information to dispel these rumors.

Rowly is one of 10 FHWs at Banow IDP Camp, one of the five IDP camps International Medical Corps supports as part of its COVID-19 response. According to Rowly, people in the camp were living in denial even as the virus spread at an alarming rate. Yet despite many people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, there was a stigma associated with getting tested.

Hawo, a mother of six children and a resident of Banow Camp, confesses that she was skeptical about the existence of COVID-19.

“I remember when the female health workers came to my house,” she says. “I asked them what they were up to, and they told me that they wanted to share information regarding COVID-19. At first, I did not believe them or the supposed threat of COVID-19. I appreciate that they were patient with me. With their help, I am now well-versed with COVID-19—including how it’s transmitted and how to prevent it. Now I can recognize the signs and symptoms. I really appreciate their efforts.”

In addition, our teams in Somalia initiated mass information campaigns—holding COVID-19 monthly community meetings, transmitting radio messages about COVID-19 prevention, and supporting call-in sessions, also on radio, hosted by a popular doctor who addressed questions and concerns from the public.

Since our COVID-19 risk communications program in Somalia launched in June 2020, nearly 850,000 people have received information about COVID-19. Currently, our teams of FHWs and other community health workers are promoting COVID-19 vaccines and addressing any associated rumors. Together with the Somalia Ministry of Health and community leaders, we are working to ensure that government-run vaccination campaigns are as effective as possible.

With support from GlobalGiving and its community of donors, our teams in Somalia and around the world continue to combat misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines hoping to bring an end to this global pandemic. 

Hawo speaks with our team member about COVID-19
Hawo speaks with our team member about COVID-19
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Rebecca, one of our volunteer vaccinators, at KCHC
Rebecca, one of our volunteer vaccinators, at KCHC

International Medical Corps has been responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic since February 2020. Now, in addition to providing personal protective equipment, training frontline health workers and treating COVID-19 patients, our teams are supporting government and local agencies to implement successful vaccination campaigns in the United States and around the world.

At Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in South Los Angeles, exactly one year from deploying initially to combat COVID-19, we deployed additional medical field units and mobile units to support the community hospital's vaccination efforts. At Kedren Community Health Center, our volunteer medical teams have been providing an average of 1,000 vaccines per day.

According to Maureen, one of our volunteer vaccinators at Kedren Community Health Center and a recently retired emergency department nurse from UC Irvine Medical Center, “It’s nice to be on the other side, to be on the preventive side of this awful pandemic. And I’m so grateful to be giving vaccines. It’s so exciting, because people are happy. They’re not complaining. They’re excited to get this vaccine, because they know it’s part of the recovery process. There’s hope now.”

Between March 1 and May 8, 2021, International Medical Corps has supported 130,829 vaccine doses at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital and Kedren Community Health Center, including 91,580 vaccine doses administered by our team of volunteers.

Some 7,500 miles away, in Jordan, our teams are playing a central role in coordinating vaccination efforts for Syrian refugees residing in Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps. In partnership with the Jordanian Ministry of Health and the United Nations, our teams are identifying and registering refugees based on vulnerability, addressing vaccine hesitancy through awareness-raising activities, transporting patients to vaccine sites, conducting post-vaccine observation, ensuring refugees receive the second dose and providing any health support needed. As of April 26, our teams have supported the administration of more than 5,200 vaccine doses in Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps.

While the vaccine rollout is just beginning in many countries, thanks to the support of the GlobalGiving community and other donors, International Medical Corps’ teams are prepared to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts around the world.

In Jordan, we transport refugees to vaccine sites
In Jordan, we transport refugees to vaccine sites
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COVID-19 patients receive antibody transfusions
COVID-19 patients receive antibody transfusions

When COVID-19 shook our world in the spring of 2020, the medical community had to scramble to catch up. In those urgent early days, as states across the US struggled to assemble mass testing sites, hospitals coped with staggeringly high patient loads. As part of our biggest emergency response to date, International Medical Corps deployed 33 emergency medical field units across the US to give underserved, overwhelmed hospitals the extra space they needed to serve critical COVID patients.

Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago received one of these medical tents from International Medical Corps in May. The hospital, located in the thick of urban Chicago in a gentrifying community that hosts a significant homeless and underinsured population, was hit hard by COVID-19 in the spring due to the large number of nursing homes in the area. “We had no bed availability at all and had to open up portions of the hospital that would normally not house patients,” says Dr. Suzanne, Weiss’s COVID-19 medical director. She explains, “Functioning at full capacity for two months straight was very, very hard on our hospital.”

The donation from International Medical Corps proved to be “a tremendous help” in providing extra capacity, both because of the additional space the tent provided and the accompanying materials that made it fully operational, such as cots, monitoring equipment, HEPA filters and more.

“As a small community hospital, I just didn't think that we would ever get this sort of attention. But because of International Medical Corps’ support, we have finally been able to provide the higher standard of care that I always wanted for our patients,” says Dr. Suzanne.

The tent started off as a safe environment for COVID testing, but by the end of November had transformed into an area used for infusions of a recently approved treatment: monoclonal antibodies known as Bamlanivimab and Casirivimab/Imdevimab. The “most effective COVID-19 prevention measure we’ve seen to date” according to Dr. Suzanne, these antibodies contain a manufactured protein designed to impede the spike protein of COVID-19, suppressing the virus’s ability to replicate. “Every patient that we have infused has done quite well,” says Dr. Suzanne. “I call them 48 hours after the infusion and 100% have said, ‘I feel dramatically better.’”

Weiss was the first hospital in Chicago to be able to do the infusions, which Dr. Suzanne credits to having the International Medical Corps tent. She reports that the other hospitals in the area that received antibodies from the federal government are still trying to figure out how to safely bring known COVID-positive patients into their environments to give them the antibodies. “But for us, it was just seamless, because we had a dedicated environment already ready to go,” says Dr. Suzanne. “We are so proud that we’ve been able to be the first hospital in Chicago to do this—and it absolutely was only because of the donation.”

Dr. Suzanne’s gratitude for the support from International Medical Corps stems in large part from the absolute exhaustion she and her colleagues feel serving on the frontlines of this pandemic. “The first surge was very, very tough for the entire medical community at large because we didn’t know what we were dealing with and everyone was afraid for their patients, seeing them progress so rapidly and not knowing how to help them,” she says. “That emotional impact, coupled with the physical toll, led many people to step away from medicine during that time, leaving more responsibility on the shoulders of those who did remain actively at the bedside caring for COVID patients,” she continued.

Dr. Suzanne feels the hospital is much more prepared to respond, thanks to its partnership with International Medical Corps. “This partnership is something that I’ve come to really cherish, and it’s helped me feel hope that—by having organizations like International Medical Corps partner with our hospital—we can really help so many people get through this,” she says. “And now, having the antibody infusions as a way to prevent the need for hospitalization, I see even more light at the end of the tunnel here.”

Thanks to the generosity of the GlobalGiving Community and other donors, International Medical Corps continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and around the world.

Our team sets up a tent at Weiss Memorial Hospital
Our team sets up a tent at Weiss Memorial Hospital
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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
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International Medical Corps

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