Puerto Rico: As COVID-19 cases rise, MSF ramps up its response

MSF and local partners have conducted health promotion campaigns that focus on handwashing, wearing masks in public, and physical distancing. We commissioned street murals to promote these important health messages in the busy areas of San Juan near shelters.
Puerto Rico 2020 © Amanda Hooyber/MSF
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San Juan, Puerto Rico, August 19, 2020With Puerto Rico seeing a sharp increase in coronavirus cases  over the past month, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has expanded its response on the island, providing primary care consultations in homes and clinics to people with no access to medical services and monitoring the symptoms of COVID-19 patients.

. During the week of August 14, there have been an average of 645 cases per day, an increase of 46 percent from the average two weeks earlier.

In San Juan, MSF works in collaboration with several Puerto Rican organizations. For example, Coalición de Coaliciones offers COVID-19 testing to homeless people at a fixed site, while MSF sets up a pop-up clinic nearby to provide medical consultations. If someone tests positive, they can enroll in MSF’s COVID-19 monitoring program.


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买球电脑版The COVID-19 monitoring program is a 14-day, mobile phone-based system in which patients can self-enroll via text or WhatsApp. The patient monitors their symptoms daily and reports the results by phone to an MSF nurse. MSF provides referrals to mental health and social workers, if needed. If the case is severe, MSF refers the patient to a hospital. Teams also support patients to receive prescriptions through primary care doctors.

买球电脑版“Testing positive for COVID-19 can be extremely scary for anyone, especially if you are managing your own symptoms at home or relying on family,” said Betancourt de Leon. “The care we have been able to provide helps relieve a lot of that anxiety—because our patients know they are being monitored by medical professionals, and because they now have the information they need to manage their symptoms and limit transmission to their families.”

MSF medical teams also provide home-based care and carry out consultations at fixed clinics for patients suffering from chronic health issues. As MSF prioritizes services for the most vulnerable people, its medical teams in and around San Juan work with homeless people, drug users, and the elderly. They travel to remote areas in the east (Humacao, Fajardo, and Loíza), west (Arecibo and Utuado), and south (Ponce) of the island where people with chronic health conditions live in isolation.

Map_JPG_Puerto Rico Covid-19 Response
© Carrie Hawks

买球电脑版“During an acute emergency, such as what we are seeing with COVID-19, chronic health issues can go ignored in neglected or vulnerable communities,” said Betancourt de Leon. “People with high blood pressure or diabetes or HIV, for example, might not be able to get to their regular medical appointments, or they might not be able to get their prescriptions refilled and stop taking their medicines. With these clinics for people with chronic health conditions, we are trying to prevent COVID-19 from causing another type of health emergency.”  

买球电脑版When MSF began its COVID-19 response in Puerto Rico in early May, MSF dealt with the immediate needs for personal protective equipment (PPE) and training on infection prevention and control (IPC) measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus in health facilities, detention centers, schools of nursing, and among high-risk populations. MSF has helped distribute nearly 30,000 PPE, conducted infection prevention training to staff at 22 facilities, provided 5,100 hygiene kits, and is continuing to provide hand hygiene and COVID-19 health education workshops to high-risk groups.

MSF is an international medical humanitarian organization with programs in over 70 countries. MSF teams are preparing every project where they work to be COVID-ready as the pandemic sweeps the globe. In the United States, MSF’s COVID-19 response teams worked with migrant farmworkers in Florida; helped people who are homeless and housing insecure in New York City; supported Native American communities in the Navajo Nation and Pueblos; and trained essential workers in nursing homes and adult foster care facilities for the elderly in Michigan. In Puerto Rico, MSF has two mobile medical teams to provide care at patients' homes or at pop-up clinics and is forming a third team to handle the rise in cases. These teams are also monitoring COVID-19 patients who are asymptomatic or have mild or moderate symptoms. MSF has started a new program in Texas providing IPC trainings to staff and residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.