Doctors Without Borders is assisting at this COVID-19 testing and telemedicine mobile clinic in Immokalee, Florida. In the zip code 34142, which includes Immokalee, there are 841 coronavirus cases as of June 6. Photo: Katie Irwin/MSF
Doctors Without Borders has again dispatched teams to the U.S., this time to help overstretched local authorities and charities deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Why it matters: The humanitarian medical group usually works in conflict zones and impoverished countries affected by endemic disease. But some 50 of its staff are working in the U.S. to ease the stress COVID-19 has put on already underserved communities in New York, Florida, New Mexico, the Navajo Nation and Puerto Rico, spokesperson Nico D'Auterive said.
Details: Known by its French acronym, MSF is not a registered medical organization in the U.S., so it's limited to providing advice and assisting with water, sanitation and infection prevention and control.
- Teams were first dispatched to New York City in March, before expanding to other U.S. communities.
In New York City:
- MSF is working with the Coalition for the Homeless, soup kitchens and residential housing groups to improve virus prevention and control for people who are homeless or housing insecure.
- The groups are also distributing masks, sleeping bags, toiletry kits and clothing.
- CFH spokeswoman Shelly Nortz told Axios the coronavirus lockdown has prevented access to public washing facilities. So the Coalition and MSF are running shower trailers in Midtown Manhattan and Harlem.
- MSF provided 1,000 cellphones to ensure people can contact essential services. The CFH pays for the phone plans, Nortz said.
- In the rural community of Immokalee, MSF is working with groups including the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to provide health consultations and coronavirus testing to some 20,000 migrant farmworkers in mobile clinics.
- Deemed essential, many farmworkers didn't have access to masks, hand-washing stations or coronavirus testing centers, D'Auterive said.
- Most work seven days a week in this tomato-growing region and the nearest hospital is over 40 miles away in Naples.
In Puerto Rico:
- Puerto Rico is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which struck in 2017, and the earthquakes earlier this year that displaced hundreds in the south.
- MSF plans to set up mobile clinics on the island amid a personal protective equipment shortage.
- "There's guidance at some of the hospitals that the workers are allowed one mask per week," D'Auterive said. "You would normally switch out every shift."
In New Mexico and the Navajo Nation:
- MSF dispatched a team of nine in April to help the Navajo Nation, which stretches across three states and has reported more than 5,700 cases as of June 5.
- D'Auterive said some of the team is also working with the Pueblos north of Albuquerque.
- "These are communities that are historically underfunded and under-resourced," she said.
What's next: MSF has committed to working in U.S. locations until the end of June, but could extend, particularly in Native American communities, D'Auterive said.
Of note: The only other time MSF has dispatched teams to the U.S. was in response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
- D'Auterive said during that deployment, MSF provided care (with a significantly smaller team) to more than 1,000 people in the New York City boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, and in Hoboken, New Jersey.