Healthcare Workers Adjust to the Realities of COVID-19
The spread of COVID-19 challenged the world to change the way things work, and quickly. This was especially true for medical facilities and the health workers who needed to continue their everyday care for people in need, but who were also called to respond to the pandemic. In Rwanda, and for Alight, this also meant a re-think of healthcare systems that serve some of its most vulnerable—refugees living in camps.
In Gihembe Refugee Camp, about an hour’s drive north of Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, Alight has a long history of providing a foundation of health, from primary and reproductive healthcare to nutritional support. We also take great care to look after refugee and host community clients with special needs and those who are most at risk—children under five years of age, pregnant women, people with disabilities, people living with HIV, and others with chronic health conditions.
People with special needs are often those who come most frequently to our clinic in Gihembe, and who need the most consistent treatment. But with the restrictions of COVID-19 put into place, the Alight Rwanda team needed to think fast to prevent the spread of the virus—and to continue their everyday, lifesaving care.
A Big Adjustment
As our health team sprung into action, they realized that in order to get a handle on COVID-19 safety, they needed to limit the number of people physically coming into the clinic. Plus, many people with special health needs also required home health visits from staff, which proved to be a challenge for social distancing.
Knowing that those most at risk needed their support now more than ever, the team put into place a series of strategies that allowed them to keep everyone safe, while still providing the level of care required.
Instead of continuing with in-home visits, Alight healthcare staff began regular phone calls in order to keep up with patients’ status, especially those living with HIV. For those who came in monthly for medications, the team ensured they had at least two months worth of drugs to help them stay at home, with required medication. Similarly, many people—especially children—depend on bi-monthly nutritional supplements to help their health get back on track. For these patients, the team arranged to lessen their visits to once per month to help keep social distancing rules in place at food and nutrition supplement distribution points.
The Alight team also deployed their community health workers to help communicate problems or questions raised by patients, even in the furthest reaches in the camp. They set up a free emergency call line for the health workers and the health center, open 24 hours a day.
In further support to the camp community, Alight’s interventions included procuring and installing extra handwashing, hygiene and sanitation equipment, and community outreach and education. The team also provided remote support and provision of medications to vulnerable clients—such as those with diabetes, seniors, high blood pressure, and expectant women— through community health workers, to keep them away from regular visits to the often crowded health facilities. And of course, like so many workplaces around the world, Alight’s Rwanda team adopted a largely digital-driven remote-work plan to manage the risk of infection among and across staff and clients, closely following the country program health contingency plan and guidelines by Rwandan health authorities. Preventing the normally steady flow of people coming in and out of the camp went a long way in helping to stem the spread of infection.
The Challenge Ahead
The team is more ready than ever to respond to an influx of cases. But there are challenges ahead. Healthcare workers are remaining alert to possible scenarios or concerns like access to testing and timely results, risk of in-camp laboratories being overwhelmed, and a limitation of staff some who have needed to work from home or some who get impacted and having to isolate or quarantine for a period. But they’re also committed to making the response sustainable. As COVID-19 evolves, their approach will change, too.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Health teams need all the support they can get— not just to respond to COVID-19, but to keep essential healthcare services for refugees up, running, and adapting to new realities. Read more about how team Rwanda is helping refugees build healthy lives, or get in touch with questions. And, you can give here.