Fieldset
COVID-19: Helping Germany's most vulnerable

Nurse Cordula has worked with MSF in the Central African Republic, Greece, Haiti, Libya, and South Africa. Now, she finds herself deployed to her home country, Germany, where she is aiding the fight against COVID-19.

Wir beraten auch in Deutschland

It is not always easy for us to decide when and where we should bring in our expertise or start a project.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, we provided humanitarian aid, especially for people affected by conflict or natural disasters.

Naturally, as a medical NGO, we have always been active in efforts to stop epidemics such as Ebola, measles, or malaria.

Until recently, these crises had mainly affected countries in the global south, where healthcare systems are often completely overwhelmed or virtually nonexistent.

Responding to COVID-19 in Germany

Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, we recently recognised the need to offer our support here in Germany as well.

Usually, we focus on society’s most vulnerable – no matter where we are active.

It became clear that the greatest support we could offer right now is our experience: the knowledge gained from almost 50 years of delivering medical emergency aid and fighting epidemics under some of the most severe conditions. 

From an epidemiological perspective, in Germany, these are mainly people in densely packed accommodations, people without any papers or health insurance – the homeless, refugees, and people in similarly precarious situations.

Applying nearly 50 years’ experience 

In the meantime, we have been able to establish contact with various associations, organisations, and charities, as well as representatives of state institutions and agencies working in this field.

As the German healthcare system has the capacity and resources to deal with such a pandemic, it became clear that the greatest support we could offer right now is our experience: the knowledge gained from almost 50 years of delivering medical emergency aid and fighting epidemics under some of the most severe conditions. 

Our range of consulting services includes medical, epidemiological, and logistical expertise, advice on the design of intervention measures, as well as specific, selective personnel support in their implementation.

So far, we have been able to provide assistance in this way to food banks, the Berlin City Mission, and numerous institutions of the church’s welfare work. 

Supporting asylum seekers

In addition, an MSF team has been supporting the Central Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers of the State of Saxony-Anhalt (ZASt) in Halberstadt since 20 April, providing psychological care, health education and communication support. 

This is an excellent example of how we can make concrete use of our expertise from our worldwide projects.

After all, we are talking about people from different countries of origin who cannot communicate well with each other, live in confined spaces, and are subject to insecurity and fear in this crisis.

Many of the migrants have had traumatic experiences and often have a much weaker immune system. 

Harnessing the power of positivity

By using our experience from projects in different cultures, our team can build a bridge here, train the employees on-site, and contribute to mutual understanding.

For this purpose, we use materials that we also use in our outreach work, such as a video in which the importance of washing hands is made easily accessible.

Above all, it is also universally understandable through music and dance. The active participation of everyone also ensures that the message is well understood.

In that way, it is easier to build trust and, primarily, create a sense of fun and positivity.

By using our experience from projects in different cultures, our team can build a bridge here, train the employees on-site, and contribute to mutual understanding.

This positivity is an important prerequisite for getting through such a time of without too much damage. While staying at home, you probably also notice how the restrictions of everyday life begin to wear on your nerves.

This makes it all the more challenging to cope with such an exceptional situation when existential needs or fear of the future is already part of everyday life, as they are for these people.

Physical not social distancing 

As an organisation, we are also only virtually connected with each other at this time.

On the one hand, this makes the precise work steps more difficult but it also shows every one of us how serious the psychological challenge is.

We miss the social togetherness, the direct contact. Therefore, I would like to recommend a video by our colleague Raimund Alber, who has put together a few helpful tips.

By the way, at Doctors Without Borders, we do not talk about "social distancing" but rather about "physical distancing".

Because now more than ever, it is especially important to be able to exchange information at least in regular video conferences and to meet your colleagues in their living room offices.

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Read more: From our staff on COVID-19

"I want to help your country's hospitals": How COVID-19 should change our view of aid

COVID-19: Finding my focus for the pandemic