“The Health Care Worker Kits you sent us were invaluable,” said the Provincial Vice-Director of the Ministry of Health in Santiago de Cuba at the closing meeting of Global Links’ site evaluation visit. For four days, Global Links staff visited hospitals affected by Hurricane Sandy, evaluating the impact of our support and assessing potential projects. At each hospital, the staff would thank us for the support we had provided and mention the Health Care Worker Kits as one of the key items they appreciated receiving. “Yes.” I responded to the Vice-Director, “Everyone we spoke to highlighted those kits.” The Vice-Director sat down, took off her glasses and quietly responded “They were very valuable; allow me to share my personal story.”
Hurricane Sandy was the strongest Hurricane to impact Santiago de Cuba. A category 2 hurricane, Sandy entered Santiago with winds of up to 220 km per hour, tidal waves of 9 to 10 meters and hours upon hours of rain. The difficult task of cleanup and rebuilding started immediately after the storm had cleared, but the magnitude of damage to the local infrastructure led to a rise in infectious diseases in the area. Cholera, brought back to the Caribbean region through poor sanitary conditions at humanitarian response camps following the 2010 Haitian earthquake, is now one of the epidemiological risks following any disaster in the region. For months after Hurricane Sandy, healthcare workers in Santiago de Cuba canvassed the communities in the province identifying at-risk individuals and transporting patients with cholera to one of the main hospitals for treatment.
“We were at the point where we felt the situation was under control, and we were providing educational visits to the community about basic hygiene to prevent cholera.” explained the Vice-Director. “We were visiting a community in the Sierras – the mountains – when a young doctor stopped at the home of an elderly man whom the neighbors believed was suffering from cholera.” There was only one problem: the doctor had no protective gear with her. They stood outside the house pondering possibilities that would allow the doctor to enter the house without putting her life at risk. Did they assess the situation from the outside, go to the closest hospital for the protective gear and then come back? But this was an area of difficult access, so it would be hours before they could come back and cholera patients cannot spare hours. Then the Vice-Director remembered that she had one of the Health Worker kits we had sent in the trunk of her car. She was able to give the doctor a gown, gloves, and face mask, enabling the doctor to care for the patient with minimal risk to herself.
Washing slides – a potential biohazard – wearing gloves from Global Links.
When we think about medical resources, we sometimes forget to include personnel – and yet of all the resources, they are the most precious. This was brought home to me several times on my recent trip to Cuba. I also saw a lab technician washing microscope slides, a potential biohazard, thankfully wearing gloves from Global Links. Reusing single-use materials is common in the countries where we work and I was glad to see the staff taking precautions to protect themselves.
The health care worker kits were donated to Global Links by a local corporation who had them as preventive measures for a season in which H1N1 was on the rise. Thankfully, there was no pandemic in Pittsburgh and the surplus materials served their purpose protecting Cuban Health care workers battling cholera.
Our project to help Santiago de Cuba recover and rebuild from Hurricane Sandy is now in phase two. In 2014 and 2015, Global Links will be working on strengthening their ORs with anesthesia machines and surgical beds, their patient wards with beds and mattresses, their laboratories with microscopes and testing equipment. And as we worked during that closing meeting on the list of consumable supplies to prioritize during this phase, the Vice-Director smiled and said “And don’t forget to send more Healthcare Worker Kits.”
Preparing to pack those essential health care worker kits.
Today my inbox has been flooded with e-mail alerts with titles like “MERS Cases Pose Threat to Health Care Workers” as the US deals with its first cases of MERS brought back by health care workers returning from Saudi Arabia. So I find myself thinking about the young doctor I never met, feeling glad that materials from Global Links not only help the patients, they protect the irreplaceable and dedicated doctors and nurses who care for them, and grateful for our partners who help us in our mission of sharing surplus and saving lives.
Please consider becoming a Global Giver in support of our program in Cuba and the patients, doctors and nurses who depend on us.