The WHO announced the largest daily confirmed cases worldwide just last week. New communities are being overwhelmed by the virus. We know what that fear feels like when the virus reached our communities. A deeper understanding and empathy for people around the world has emerged due to the effect of this virus.
In Mexico the number of recorded cases is increasing exponentially. We are most concerned about the vulnerable populations we currently provide services to in the cities of Matamoros and Reynosa, which are situated along the Mexico-US border.
In coordination with the Reynosa and Matamoros health authorities, MSF has opened COVID-19 treatment centres in both cities to help prevent their health systems from becoming overwhelmed. The two centres are housed in Tamaulipas State University basketball gymnasiums.
An isolation area has been established inside the COVID-19 centre in Reynosa for people who have been deported from the United States and are suspected of carrying the virus. In this area returnees will have a safe space to be quarantined until our team confirm they do not have COVID-19 or they fully recover from the infection. The centre in Matamoros has been set up to care for patients with mild cases of COVID-19, who do not have the option of isolating at home.
Both facilities have 20 beds and oxygen concentrators to care for patients with severe symptoms. The centres will be managed by MSF health staff 24 hours a day throughout the week.
In addition to medical and nursing teams, both centres will have staff trained in mental health, health promotion and social work to guarantee comprehensive healthcare services for patients and their families. They will provide services over the telephone to patients and in person with their families in a safe zone.
“For MSF, safety is a priority and this project is no exception. We have ensured that our teams have all the necessary protection equipment and all staff have had training so they know how to use it in a proper way,” says Emma Picasso, MSF project medical referent in Reynosa.
MSF is in direct and constant communication with health authorities in both cities, so they can refer patients to the centres or to refer them in case they present with a complication.
“We are here with the objective to help people cope with a complex and difficult situation, and we are going to offer them dignified and humane treatment, also the adequate medical care base on the experience MSF can provide,” says Citlali Barba, MSF project medical referent in Matamoros.
Alongside the COVID-19 treatment centres, MSF will continue to provide comprehensive healthcare to migrants, asylum seekers and victims of violence in Matamoros and Reynosa. As an additional service, MSF has also opened a phone line to provide mental healthcare to survivors of violence and people who have suffered emotional traumas as a result of the pandemic.
Photo © Sergio Ortiz/MSF
Stories from the Field
When the pandemic hotspot was in Europe, MSF responded where needed. Some of those responses are now closing- like in France, Belgium and Italy-where the need has passed. The focus remains on preparing for anticipated needs and responding to new needs.
Gweneth Thirlwell is a project administrator from Montreal who has worked with MSF in Democratic Republic of Congo and in South Sudan. She is currently working with MSF’s COVID-19 response team in Matamoros, in northwestern Mexico. She recently shared some of her ongoing experience as the team in Matamoros were preparing a COVID response.
How has COVID-19 changed the way MSF is responding in the field?
MSF usually responds reactively to emergencies – coming in after a disaster or conflict has created a humanitarian emergency. In response to COVID-19 in Mexico, MSF teams are taking a much more proactive approach. In Tamaulipas state, where Matamoras is located, MSF launched a response before COVID-19 cases were declared, allowing us to build the systems and infrastructure to be prepared for an impending outbreak.
Do you get a sense of what kind of impact MSF’s presence is having in Matamoros, Mexico?
Since COVID-19 cases have not yet exploded in Matamoras, the direct impact MSF has had on any patients with COVID-19 is yet to be seen. However, MSF’s health promotion efforts – encouraging people to wash their hands and socially distance when possible – has helped educate the community on staying healthy. MSF has also supported water and sanitation efforts inside a migrant camp along the border with the United States.
MSF’s objective here in Matamoros is to prepare for an emergency, and we are working hard to ensure our efforts mean people will have access to the critical healthcare they need. Matamoras lacks the local capacity to respond to an influx of COVID-19 cases and the MSF’s teams’ construction of the 40-bed COVID-19 care facility is double the city’s bed capacity. This will be particularly impactful for the city’s most vulnerable residents – especially migrants, who are unable to access the existing Mexican healthcare system. If COVID-19 hits the city in the coming weeks or months, MSF’s COVID-19 care facility will be critical. The safety net we’ve built will be there to save lives.
(Note: This interview took place in early June. The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects continue to rapidly evolve. Details in the article may change over time.)
Photo © MSF/Cristopher Rogel Blanquet