PIH's Emergency COVID-19 Response

by Partners In Health (PIH)
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PIH's Emergency COVID-19 Response
PIH's Emergency COVID-19 Response
PIH's Emergency COVID-19 Response

Project Report | Mar 8, 2022
Winter Update to PIH's COVID-19 response

By Aicha Belabbes | Annual Giving Coordinator

Thousands of vulnerable patients are about to breathe easier, thanks to a new oxygen plant installed by Socios En Salud and partners earlier this month.

More than 36,000 people requiring medical oxygen in the La Libertad region of Peru will benefit from the oxygen plant, which was installed at Belén Hospital by Socios En Salud, as Partners In Health is known in Peru, the Ministry of Health, USAID, and Build Health International.

The oxygen plant comes as COVID-19 cases in Peru surge amid the highly-contagious Omicron variant, which has brought the country’s total coronavirus-related deaths to 204,404 and total infections to more than 2.9 million, according to Reuters.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have fought to help close the oxygen gap,” said Dr. Leonid Lecca, executive director of Socios En Salud. “With this new oxygen plant…we ensure that more patients have access to timely and quality care.”

Oxygen is one of the last lines of defense against COVID-19, which attacks the respiratory system and, in its most severe form, requires intubation. Hospitals put patients on oxygen in hopes of preventing them from needing an ICU bed.

But the lifesaving resource is difficult to get—especially in Peru, where logistical challenges such as irregular access to electricity and the country’s electrical specifications stymied the supply chain for months.

Oxygen plants—which fit in standard-size shipping containers—are essential in oxygen production, because they enable hospitals to fill dozens of portable tanks each day. This onsite supply of concentrated, high-purity medical oxygen prevents health workers from having to travel to the nearest oxygen plant, sometimes hours away.

But oxygen plants are costly and cumbersome to install—making Socios En Salud’s efforts all the more critical.

The oxygen plant in La Libertad can produce 20,000 liters of oxygen per hour, strengthening the hospital’s response to COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia.

It’s the second that Socios En Salud has provided in partnership with USAID and the Ministry of Health. The first was installed in November at the San Martín Health Center in Iberia district, near the border with Brazil and Bolivia.

Socios En Salud has worked in Peru since 1994, where it responded to a deadly outbreak of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and ultimately changed World Health Organization policy, leading the WHO to revise its global treatment recommendations for the disease. In the decades since, Socios En Salud has continued to provide medical care and social support in Carabayllo and beyond, focusing on strengthening the country’s health system.

As part of those system-strengthening efforts, health workers at Belén Hospital will receive training on how to use and maintain the oxygen plant, which is Socios En Salud’s latest effort to boost oxygen capacity in Lima and beyond.

Since November, Socios En Salud has delivered more than 120 oxygen concentrators and 90 oxygen tanks to hospitals across Peru, as well as installed 260 oxygen outlets directly into hospital walls, beside patient beds.

Socios En Salud also established a temporary oxygen center in Carabayllo for patients with dangerously low oxygen levels. A second such center is planned to open later this month.

The COVID-19 pandemic persists.

As we enter the third year of the global public health emergency, the virus continues to mutate and spread in the absence of worldwide vaccination. Omicron, the latest highly contagious variant, has caused COVID-19 cases to skyrocket in many countries. In early 2022, a world record was set: more than 9.5 million new COVID-19 cases were reported within a week, according to the World Health Organization. In total, more than 5.5 million people have died from COVID-19 and more than 332 million cases have been reported. Hospitalizations–mostly among unvaccinated people–are rising too.  

This has been a challenge for already strained hospitals and health care workers at Partners In Health (PIH) sites around the globe, including in Kazakhstan, Peru, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone, among others.

In Kazakhstan–where the president called for a two-week state of emergency on January 5 following political unrest and violence–clinicians are seeing a surge in cases, which the country’s ministry of health has attributed to the Omicron variant. In addition, the Delta variant is still present more than a year since it was first detected globally.

In Peru, the rate of infected people doubled last week compared to the previous week. PIH-supported facilities in the country have seen a rise in infections and hospitalizations, mostly among those who are not fully vaccinated. Compared to most countries, Peru is ahead of the curve with vaccination: about 80% of people have received two doses and 14% received a booster. 

Rwanda is not far behind. As of January 9, about 60% of the population have received two doses. Unlike many sites, PIH-supported facilities in Rwanda have not seen an increase in hospitalizations. However, they are still experiencing a fourth wave of COVID-19 due to the Omicron variant. While cases have been mild or asymptomatic, there are still many people at risk who have yet to be vaccinated.

Although the Omicron surge is flattening across many parts of Africa, the impact of the variant continues to be felt in countries such as Sierra Leone. The surge affected many PIH staff members, who were unable to go to work during the holiday season, which put additional stress on service delivery. In communities across Kono District in the east, the spread of COVID-19 has mostly gone undetected due to a widespread shortage of tests. Most of the reported cases have been among inbound and outbound international travelers. There is a significant need for more tests and vaccines. Less than 4% of the population is vaccinated and less than 0.1% has received a booster shot. 

Recently, PIH experts and fellow researchers published a report that highlighted the need for more mRNA vaccines–22 billion, to be exact, which they estimate is the number that must be manufactured and administered to control COVID-19 globally. Meanwhile, clinicians continue to build health systems by focusing on the vital 5 S’s–staff, stuff, space, systems, and social support–which are needed to respond to emergencies and provide lifesaving health care now–and beyond the pandemic. 


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Organization Information

Partners In Health (PIH)

Location: Boston, MA - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @PIH
Project Leader:
Aicha Belabbes
Boston , MA United States
$6,751 raised of $50,000 goal
28 donations
$43,249 to go
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