Here in North America, there is an ever so slight whisper of spring. Although we just survived an artic blast rarely seen, the promise of spring is apparent. It gives me hope.
Add to the changing equinox, more and more citizens in many nations worldwide are receiving first and second-dose vaccines - and things do feel hopeful. Alas, before I go too much further with this joyous proclamation of renewal, I need to recognize the tremendous challenges occurring in the southern hemisphere.
Latin America is struggling through a challenging second wave. Perú is in the midst of a severe flood of new cases, shaken healthcare system, and the sinking reality of opportunity lost regarding access to vaccines. Although some healthcare workers are getting their first round, it's hard to know how many providers will reach their full vaccine cycle . . . and it is even harder to see when the general citizenry will have access to vaccines.
This past week has brought more struggles in access to oxygen, hospital beds, and intensive care capacity. A six-year-old boy at the Casa Girasoles was taken into emergency surgery for appendicitis late last night. Although the surgery went off without a glitch, a lack of beds in the hospital meant he recovered from the surgery in a hallway and was discharged less than 12 hours after surgery. Over and over again, we are hearing stories of patients unable to get access to care. It is heartbreaking.
We haven't lost hope. We know we will make it through this challenge. We know more and more vaccines will be made available to low- and middle-income countries. We know this will change for the better.
For now, we keep doing what we can. We're focusing on assuring the people we serve can access the resources they need to take care of themselves and their families. We are mindful of the need to keep tracking the future while focusing on the needs of the now.
Spring is coming. A new season will bring new opportunities and new challenges. Whatever it brings, we will remain hopeful . . . and, we keep planning.
Official figures report more than 7,000 deaths in Perú during the last week. Conventional belief is there are many more deaths undercounted. For all intent and purposes, systems are beginning to fail: Oxygen is challenging to find and expensive, hospitals are at capacity, and people are overwhelmed.
It is hard to know the best way to help. Over the past couple of weeks, I've been on several phone calls, exchanged a multitude of WhatsApp messages, and corresponded through email with various stakeholders. The consensus - there is no consensus around the best way to help the situation in Perú.
There is, however, one critical insight rising to the surface of all my conversations and correspondence - planning for the next phase. Perú is in the midst of an incredibly challenging period - and this will not suddenly change. The challenges of healthcare services access and economic inequality did not start with the pandemic. For decades, these challenges have been woven into the fabric of Peruvian culture and society. Crafting sustainable solutions to these challenges can begin in the context of the COVID pandemic. Still, there is a need to build a structured approach to addressing these complex issues well into the future.
All of this talk about balancing the immediate needs of the situation with the long-term solutions for change got me thinking about what we - Health Bridges - can do to help. It got me thinking about the role we are best positioned to facilitate.
We don't have an answer yet.
All I know is this - for over two decades, we have been working to build bridges in Perú. Our efforts have led to the development of a model for training healthcare professionals in neonatal resuscitation training, advanced child welfare services and crafted a holistic approach to working with families living in the experience of poverty with a child living with a disability. Our work is about creating connections and helping to structure an approach.
We have an expression we use a lot when describing how we operate. We call it the "processes in parallel" approach. It means we hold ourselves accountable to the here-and-now, all the while envisioning the more enormous, more future impacts.
Whatever we do next, we will drive our work through the philosophy of processes in parallel - helping respond to underserved communities and people's immediate needs, all the while considering the long-term strategies for lasting change.
The pandemic is far from over. Our work is only just beginning. Stay safe. Be well. Stay connected. Thank you.
We have never done a Go Fund Me project before. Heck, we've never been through a global pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic challenges in Perú are decimating the healthcare system in the country. We feel a compelling need to respond. We're working with our medical and healthcare professional colleagues in Lima on a pilot project.
Check out our Go Fund Me project and learn more about our plans at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/per-oxygen-concentrator-response-project
As always, thank you for all your ongoing support.
I bet there are a lot of us who are closely tracking the COVID cases in Latin America. The reports coming out of Manaus (a city of over 2 million people in northwestern Brazil) are incomprehensible and altogether a clarion call to the rest of Latin America and the world. This backdrop makes what happen over the past two weeks even more otherworldly.
About two weeks ago, I received a call from a physician who has been a Health Bridges partner for several years. He called to ask if I knew how to get health equipment (PPE, oxygen, etc.) into Brazil. He was calling on behalf of his daughter, an academic anthropologist who runs a venerable climate and forest NGO (GCF Task Force) funded in part by Norway and which partners with the UN.
After briefly exchanging text messages and emails, we quickly got on a call. Dr. Colleen Scanlan Lyons explained to me that the situation in Amazonas was shifting from bad to unfathomably devastating. She said that the Governor of Amazonas released an open call to the global community for COVID relief - and asked if there anything Health Bridges could do to help?
Well, we're Health Bridges, and building bridges is what we do! I told her I would do everything I could to help. I talked with her about a small project we recently helped pilot in Arequipa with Father Alex to use oxygen concentrators to prevent pulmonary decompensation and avert the need for more critical intubation and mechanical ventilation. We talked about the specifics of the project and how it may apply to the circumstances in Brazil. We then hung up and promised to stay connected.
I quickly contacted partners and went to work identifying resources we could link to Amazonas. One of those partners is an organization with an almost 75-year history helping the world in times of great struggle. Direct Relief has also helped Health Bridges procure medication for children in our Ines Project. I didn't know if they could help, but it was worth a try.
Within hours of receiving my email, we were on a call with Direct Relief (Cydney and Erick), Dr. Colleen from GCF Task Force, and Secretary Eduardo Taveira from the Government of Amazonas. The number of WhatsApp messages, text exchanges, and emailed documents that went back-and-forth in just a few short days was mind blowing. Cydney at Director Relief and Secretary Eduardo were tireless in their efforts. They were so inspiring in their commitment to find the resources to help. Suffice-it-to-say, in a brief period - a need, health support for Amazonas in Brazil, and resources, oxygen concentrators and PPE, were connected. The connections made it possible to save thousands of lives.
There are a number of moving parts to this story that genuinely illustrate the power of collaboration and connection. I'm afraid adding those details would change this from a Blog post to a novel. One thing is clear, building bridges has never been more critical. We are living in a time when reaching out and creating connections will save lives. Now is the time for building bridges.
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.