Humanitarian, Medical NGOs Shift Efforts to U.S.

Humanitarian, Medical NGOs Shift Efforts to U.S.

Nongovernmental organizations that typically operate in countries battered by conflict or natural disaster are shifting their efforts to communities in the United States to help address and manage the coronavirus pandemic, the Associated Press reports. 

One such organization, Direct Relief, is organizing flights of medical supplies from its suppliers in China and other countries to its warehouse in Santa Barbara, California. Gloves, masks, and medicines that a couple of years ago would have gone to clinics in Haiti or Sudan are now being sent to Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto and Robert Wood Johnson Hospitals in New Jersey. Atlanta-based MedShare, which sends surplus medical supplies to clinics around the world, also is delivering protective gear to major U.S. hospitals, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and Grady Memorial in Atlanta.

After spending months responding to coronavirus outbreaks around the world, Doctors Without Borders is now working to slow the spread of the virus and address its impacts in New York City, supporting soup kitchens, setting up hand-washing stations, and offering advice to local public health officials, while Samaritan's Purse International has set up a fourteen-tent field hospital with an ICU in Central Park. 

Other humanitarian aid organizations are shifting their focus to the United States, as well. They include CARE, which is delivering relief packages to medical workers, caregivers, and individuals in need, and Feed the Children, which is distributing aid to its five distribution hubs across the country. "CARE has never delivered in the U.S. before now, but this pandemic has meant a scale-up in our response internationally and here at home as well," said the organization's CEO, Michelle Nunn.

The shift to providing assistance in the U.S. could have repercussions for humanitarian medicine and aid operations in underresourced countries, however. Rasha Khoury, who has served on surgical missions with Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan, Côte d'Ivoire, Iraq, Lebanon, and Sierra Leone, told the AP she worries that with New York City officials working around the clock to obtain supplies needed to mitigate the damage caused by the virus, infection control and basic care may become even more difficult in less developed countries.

Jean Fritz Jacques, a general surgeon in Haiti who runs Healing Arts Mission Clinic, is bracing for the worst as he watches the group's U.S.-based donors shift their attention to organizations back home. "We are just praying," he said, "that the chaos will not happen." 

(Photo credit: Direct Relief)

Martha Mendoza, Juliet Linderman. "Groups Used to Serving Desperately Poor Nations Now Help US." Associated Press 04/10/2020.