Under the visionary leadership of Dr. Paul Farmer, Partners in Health is setting an example for an effective and compassionate response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a global nonprofit organization that has been fighting for access to quality healthcare. The organization has catered to low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) since 1987. It does a good job of supplying strong on-the-ground global COVID-19 relief.
The Way Partners in Health Works
Partners in Health has developed on-the-ground networks of local healthcare professionals, community workers, facilities and government partners. These networks are poising Partners in Health to support strong on-the-ground global COVID-19 relief. They are also challenging the traditional “control over care” that LMICs traditionally use to combat pandemics.
Dr. Paul Farmer is chief strategist and chair of the Partners in Health board of trustees and recently won the $1 million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture for his impact at the intersection of global health and human rights and his leadership in advocacy for a global COVID-19 response that is humane as well as effective. Farmer is chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is also the Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s chief of Division of Global Health Equity, a physician and anthropologist.
Replacing “Control Over Care” with “Global Equity”
Farmer feels that the global health arena needs to overhaul the dominant “control over care” approach, which focuses on containment and isolation during epidemic outbreaks. The COVID-19 response has heavily emphasized isolation and social distancing more than rapid testing and treatment. In a recent Forbes interview, Farmer noted that LMICs lacked ventilators and oxygen masks for treatment during the onset of the pandemic. Instead, Farmer advocates “global health equity” so everyone has access to trained staff, medicines, supplies, appropriate facilities and best practices.
In Rwanda, Partners in Health supports community health workers who do contact tracing and accompany sick people. Farmer feels that the Partners in Health COVID-19 response in Rwanda has been stronger than the United States’ response as the U.S. does not utilize community health workers in the same way.
Investment in Local Health Systems
The Partners in Health COVID-19 response is succeeding. This is because Partners in Health has already deeply invested in the local health systems of the 11 countries it supports. In each country, Partners in Health focuses on systems building through training strong medical staff. It also focuses on securing facilities with electricity, running water and ample space. From there, Partners in Health works very closely with local governments to implement universally shared best practices to ascertain quality care. Partners in Health employs community health workers to help community members access to care. It employs 18,000 staff with 99% from countries served by Partners in Health. It also supports at least 12,000 community workers who make more than 800,000 annual home visits to patients and families.
The Partners in Health COVID-19 response includes testing and contact tracing. It also includes free care and treatment for all COVID-19 patients at all Partners in Health-supported health facilities. The Partners in Health COVID-19 response includes assisting local governments by providing personal protective equipment (PPE). It also includes training in infection protection and control measures. Mobilizing community health workers is a third facet of the Partners in Health response to the pandemic. Partners in Health’s extensive experience with infectious disease outbreaks in several countries has informed it significantly. The organization supports the “People’s Vaccine” and COVAX global movements for free and readily accessible COVID-19 vaccines. Two examples of Partners in Health’s COVID-19 response include the building of a quarantine center in Liberia and an initiative to aid disadvantaged girls in both Rwanda and Haiti.
Partners in Health Liberia’s Quarantine Center
Partners in Health Liberia opened a 26-bed quarantine center in the coastal city of Harper in April 2020. It accomplished this by working with Liberia’s health ministry and other local health partners. The center provides medical and psychosocial services 24/7. It includes dignified care amenities such as hand-washing stations and gender-friendly washrooms. It also includes appropriate medical equipment such as blood pressure and oxygen saturation monitors. This is a great example of providing more on-the-ground global COVID-19 relief.
Partners in Health Haiti Supports Teens Coping with Emotional Stress
The Partners in Health Women and Girls Initiative (WGI) offers a spectrum of activities. This includes drawing, yoga and guided meditation in Haitian Creole for teens overwhelmed with COVID-induced stress. The organization is also raising funds to provide each of the 80 Port-Au-Prince WGI participants with internet access and solar lamps. The resources will help them continue their studies during COVID-19 lockdowns. Partners in Health established WGI in 2008 to empower disadvantaged girls in both Haiti and Rwanda.
The world is beginning to grapple with the global COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Farmer and Partners in Health will play an important role in ascertaining that LMICs receive them too. “[COVID-19] is a sharp reminder that everyone should be concerned with making vaccines available, regardless of ability to pay, the country in which you happen to be born or live, or any of the other criteria that have long been abused to deny equitable access to the fruits of modern science,” he said.
– Shelly Saltzman
Photo: Wikipedia Commons