With the support of people like you, we have spent over 40 years responding to disease outbreaks and epidemics. From Ebola to cholera, to H1N1 and HIV/AIDS. We understand how quickly disease can spread and how swiftly a virus can wreak havoc on a community. Little did we know just how valuable those four decades of experience would become in the year 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world. While COVID-19 has devastated the world in many ways, it’s also brought out the best in humanity. Generosity, tenacity, collaboration and innovation are just a few of the qualities that have surfaced as the world has fought against this virus.

Over the last year, we’ve witnessed the awesome ability of our Medical Teams community to rise to the challenge of COVID-19. We saw an outpouring of generosity, from supporters giving their financial resources to volunteers giving their time. We were reminded of the courage of our frontline workers – both in the U.S. and around the world – who continued to show up to care for others, even when their own lives were at risk. We saw our office staff work overtime to innovate quickly, form new partnerships, and rework entire programs to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

At every turn, as every new need emerged, people like you showed up. Below are just a few of the many ways our community cared for people in crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Provided COVID-19 Screening and Testing

As cases began to explode in the Pacific Northwest in early March, our U.S. Programs teams quickly converted mobile dental vans to provide COVID-19 testing support. Over the year, they sent vans across Washington and Oregon to expand testing, especially to high-risk populations, like migrant workers, Native American communities and people experiencing homelessness. Our teams around the world also quickly pivoted to begin screening people in refugee camps and remote villages. In the last year, our teams have performed 1.94 million screenings globally and tested more than 25,000 people in the Pacific Northwest.

Two Medical Teams staff organizing personal protective gear on a Dental Van
U.S. Programs staff clean out and prepare vans for reuse as medical support centers at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Medical Teams mobile dental van serves as a COVID-19 testing center in a parking lot
A Mobile Dental van serves as a command center for COVID-19 testing at Swedish Health Issaquah in Washington on March 23, 2020.
A young boy having his temperature checked
A young boy living in Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Bangladesh is screened at a Medical Teams clinic.
A line of cars wait in front of a Medical Teams mobile testing center
Cars line up at a COVID-19 testing site in Yakima, WA. Our team increased testing in Yakima County – a region where cases were skyrocketing – by 50% in one day.
Photo of two Medical Teams volunteers at COVID-19 testing site
Volunteers, Kul Jaswal and Natalie Mwangi, work at a Medical Teams COVID-19 testing site. Kul is a CNA and second-year nursing student. He has seen the realities of COVID-19, sitting with patients hit hard by the virus, but felt like he wanted to help outside of his day job. “There was such great teamwork and everyone worked as a family. Everybody was playing a major role and everyone was so flexible. This is the best time to help out because there are so many people in need. Even if you just volunteer to be present and talk to somebody, it can make a huge change in their life because people are deprived of love right now. It’s the best time to be doing something for others,” Kul said.
Medical Teams staff member, Nayibe Tamboer, holds up a sign advertising free COVID-19 testing at the Yakama Nation Reservation.

2. Donated Critical Personal Protective Equipment

Early on in the pandemic, one of the most frightening realizations was that our frontline workers were severely under-resourced with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). For people like doctors, nurses and police officers – people interacting directly with COVID-19 patients – masks, face shields and gloves became even more critical. When the need surfaced, we raided our warehouse and mobile dental vans to hand over masks and gloves to frontline workers. In total, we shipped 49,000 masks, 21,000 gloves, 2,500 gowns and 6,400 safety glasses to local hospitals. In the U.S., those hospitals included Providence, UW Emergency Department, Evergreen Hospital and St. Charles Hospital. Internationally, we shipped PPE to Guatemala, Lebanon and Uganda, where PPE was hard to come by. We also made sure healthcare workers had access to training on how to use PPE effectively.

Medical Teams staff load Personal Protective Equipment onto a truck.
Medical Teams staff member, Jason Rogers, delivers 300 volunteer-made masks to Chief Steele of Tualatin Police Department.
President Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala meets with Medical Teams to receive a donation of supplies. This shipment of medical supplies worth about $900,000 was used in a 3,000-bed field hospital to help treat COVID-19 patients.
PPE is received at a hospital treating COVID-19 patients in West Bekaa, Lebanon.

3. Shared COVID-19 Prevention Messaging

For communities without advanced medical care, the best way to defend against the deadly effects of COVID-19 is through prevention. Over the last year, Community Health Workers – people who are trusted sources of information within their communities – were trained to share prevention messaging. Sometimes this looked like Community Health Workers walking through communities with megaphones to share prevention measures. Other times, this meant going home to home to explain the importance of social distancing and handwashing. They also shared messages about where to access testing, how to self-isolate and where to get care if symptoms became severe. Thousands of lives were likely been spared suffering thanks to the tireless efforts of Medical Teams’ Community Health Workers.

A poster explaining how to prevent COVID-19 is displayed at a community center in La Ceiba, Guatemala. Medical Teams partnered with the Guatemala Ministry of Health as part of a COVID-19 awareness and prevention campaign.
Woman washing hands with makeshift washing station
Village Health Teams go home to a home in a refugee settlement in Uganda explaining the importance of handwashing in preventing COVID-19.
Photo of person on smart phone texting via WhatsApp
Medical Teams staff and Refugee Outreach Volunteers in Lebanon use WhatsApp to share COVID-19 health messaging with refugees.
Medical Teams health worker, Bruno, goes house to house in the Rwamwanja refugee settlement in Uganda, sharing COVID-19 prevention messages.

4. Built COVID-19 Isolation and Treatment Centers

In crowded camps, it is critical to have treatment centers dedicated to COVID-19 patients. In May 2020, we converted a clinic in Kutupalong Refugee Camp – the world’s largest refugee camp – to a 50-bed COVID-19 unit to treat mild and moderate cases. We equipped and staffed the clinic so refugees with COVID-19 have somewhere to receive treatment inside the camp.

In Guatemala, we built three isolation units in the health districts of Chicamán, La Taña and La Parroquia, and one COVID-19 clinic in a hospital in Uspantan.

Loading bamboo for construction of COVID-19 isolation and treatment center in Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Bangladesh.
Adding partitions to COVID-19 isolation and treatment center in Kutupalong Refugee Camp.
A staff simulation training is conducted at the isolation and treatment center to prepare for COVID-19 patients.
Hamidur Rahman, who was treated for COVID-19 at the Medical Teams isolation and treatment center, waits for his follow-up appointment.

5. Distributed Handwashing Stations

In some of the places we work, even simple precautions like handwashing are difficult. Clean water is hard to find and handwashing systems are nonexistent. In Guatemala, we provided handwashing stations to over 1,600 households.

A member of the Community Health, Water and Sanitation Commission in Agua Blanca village in Chicaman, provides instruction on how to use a handwashing station.

6. Continued to Provide Urgent Dental Care

While some of our Mobile Dental vans transitioned to provide COVID-19 testing, the rest of the fleet continued to provide urgent dental care. Dental pain – like many other urgent health concerns – didn’t go away just because there was a pandemic happening. We continued to provide emergency dental care for at-risk populations – screening them for COVID-19 ahead of their visit – while keeping them from taking up vital space in emergency rooms.

Medical Teams staff member, Jill Ewanchuk, screens a patient at an emergency dental clinic at Rolling Hills Community Church in Oregon during the COVID-19 crisis.
Gloriana is cared for by a dentist and dental assistant at a Mobile Dental Clinic
Volunteers outfitted in PPE provide dental care aboard a Mobile Dental van during COVID-19.

7. Continued to Provide Life-saving Medical Care

All around the world – in Guatemala, Colombia, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Uganda and Tanzania – people in crisis continued to need medical care. Whether it was a child suffering from malnutrition, a mother enduring a difficult birth or a baby with malaria, COVID-19 didn’t stop our frontline workers from working every day to heal people who are hurting.

Medical Teams staff  trek across a washed out road with hygiene kits for survivors of Hurricane Eta in Guatemala. These hygiene kits were even more critical during COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Jojanis, a Venezuelan migrant living in Colombia, receives information from a Community Health Worker about where to get prenatal care.
Nur Begum, a Rohinga refugee, receives care at a Medical Teams clinic in Kutupalong Refugee Settlement, Bangladesh.

Looking Ahead

We are currently preparing to support vaccination campaigns in the Pacific Northwest and in our global programs. We will partner with governments and local authorities to deliver the vaccine. We will also focus on sensitizing communities on the safety and importance of the vaccines.

Because much of our work involves caring for vulnerable populations, we are committed to advocating for ethical COVID-19 vaccination campaigns that provide equitable access to vulnerable people across the globe.

None of the work of the past year to fight this pandemic would have been possible without you. Thank you for your generosity during this time of incredible need.

Lindsay Sullivan Medical Teams Brand and Content Strategist

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