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.
Today, January 31, Perú re-enters a period of quarantine and inmovilizaciones sociales obligatorias. For the next two weeks, significant parts of the country will be under lock-down orders.
There will be nothing easy about these new restrictions. For many, the simple fact of their lives is this - people need to be out-and-about to make money to feed themselves and their families. For others, the struggle of the pandemic has pushed nerves to the point of breaking. For everyone, this will not be easy.
The new restrictions in Perú, and the continued pandemic struggles around the globe, got me thinking about connections. So much has changed over these past 11 months. The pacing of our lives has shifted. We find ourselves missing out on celebrations, postponing trips and travel, and longing for time with family and friends. Our lives feeling disconnected.
However, despite these challenges - we are finding ways to stay connected and remain hopeful pillars in one another's lives. We're using video calls to reach out across the globe. We're organizing ourselves to accomplish work that prior to the pandemic required face-to-face collaboration. In the midst of great challenge, we are making things happen. Let's keep it going.
The pandemic is far from over, and the next six months will undoubtedly bring a new set of challenges and complexity. For many places in the world, life has been upended. Yes, the global pandemic is far from over - but we are not disconnected. We are a global community of hope.
Let's remain connected. Let's continue to be a part of one another's lives. Let's commit to check-in on our family, friends, and colleagues around the global whom we are called be to in community. Let's reach out and build the bridges we will need to heal one another.
We mark our work in years and decades. This is a slow and steady approach to our work. It means that a lot of what we do can't be measured in a single outcome. Instead, measuring the impact of our work requires a more integrated approach.
There are, however, those times when we can see some degree of immediate results. A few years back, we planted trees at the Casa Girasoles Kusi, outside of the community of Yungay in the central highlands of the province of Huaraz. With the help of a volunteer agronomist, we selected plants and trees that fit a high-altitude environment's challenges. Over three days, we planted a bunch. Then we left. I always wondered what happened to the plants in the back of my mind, but things got busy, and I did not hear back from anyone. That was until a few days ago.
This week I received photos of our plantings. Much to my astonishment, the trees have grown and matured. Now they are bearing fruit. The pictures show a lush garden of plants and trees, a veritable cornucopia of food for the home. Talk about satisfying. It is powerful to be able to connect an action directly with an outcome. And, I guess planting is such a direct connection.
In a lot of our work, however, the connection is not so linear or straightforward. This is especially true when you consider we are an organization focused on integration. We are continuously seeking to meet the needs of the here and now and plan for a more effective structural approach to addressing health disparities, child-empowerment, and learning opportunities for healthcare and child welfare professionals. This more significant impact work, is really tough to measure in years and even decades. But that doesn't stop us from doing the work and quantifying our outcomes.
The Ines Project is an example of work that has been an over decade long pursuit of helping families living deep in poverty with a child living with a disability - find the knowledge and skills they need to build better life outcomes. We've been working with many of the families in the program for years. Sometimes we can point to a data set and say, – look, we are making a difference. And then other times, it's tough to know how much of a significant, more systemic difference we are making in elevating the life course outcomes of children living with a medically fragile diagnosis.
Last week we learned that one of the children in the Ines Project passed away. Her name was Milagros or Miracles, and she was born with cerebral palsy and hydrocephaly. At 10-years old, her life was filled with challenges. For the past few months, she has had repeated respiratory complications. From aspiration pneumonia to COVID, she has been unwell; and our team has been working tirelessly to help the family.
A big challenge for the family is the fact that the father left long ago. His impact – financial, emotional, and social – has been non-existent. Instead, Mom has done it all – raised her two other children while caring for a child living with a disability. Nothing has been easy. Add to the challenge – a global pandemic, and things started to quickly unravel in the household. We worked hard to get the family the support they needed.
Providing financial support, coordianting food, arranging consults with specialists over the phone, paying for transportation, accompanying the family to medical visits in a COVID safe manner. We did everything we could . . . and, this outcome is not the one anyone can accept. It is painful when a child dies. It hurts in the soul.
So, what we do? We keep our focus. We continue to support Milagros' Mother. We help the family financially with funeral expenses and emotional support. We make sure the Mother and the siblings have someone to talk to you. We keep trying to build better connections, better bridges, to someday – help families living in the experience of poverty with a child living with a disability have access to the tools and resources they need to live a life filled with health, hope, home, and purpose.
We don't know what fruits our efforts will bring to bear – we can't say in every situation or circumstance. All we can do is keeping building bridges. This is our committment.
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.