NPH International’s Covid-19 Response: Providing Protection & Care to Latin America & the Caribbean’s Most Vulnerable
Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH, Spanish for “Our Little Brothers and Sisters,”) raises children, supports families, and transforms lives in nine countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean including Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru. NPH provides a safe home, food, clothing, education, and healthcare to over 6,100 vulnerable, disadvantaged, and at-risk children. NPH community outreach programs provided over 107,000 services in 2019.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has been hitting each country that NPH operates in extremely hard, but they are taking extensive precautions to protect the children and staff by enforcing protocols in all NPH homes. The protocols are being strictly followed and enforced with the guidance of the NPH Pandemic Team. The Pandemic Team was created to address issues and provide advice and monitoring to protect children and staff within the NPH community.
All of the homes are operating under a red alert level, so only essential personnel are allowed to enter and exit the facilities according to operational needs. Additionally, staff changes have been limited, but before staff members are allowed to enter, they are scanned for respiratory symptoms and their temperatures are taken. Additional purchases of PPE, vitamins, medication, and thermometers have also been made. All of the homes are practicing social distancing and schools have been closed. The children receive work from their teachers but complete it from home. High school and university students have stepped in to support the children and help complete any work needed to be done within the home.
Education, Outreach, & Childcare
Educating the children and staff at NPH homes about the pandemic was crucial in order to keep them safe and aware of the health risks COVID-19 could bring. Everyone was taught about social distancing, no-contact greetings, and proper handwashing techniques to use at the new handwashing stations. In addition to caring for the children and staff at the homes, NPH continues to pursue outreach for areas surrounding the homes. NPH has provided donations of facemasks, food, medication, and created plans for working families that have children with disabilities. To educate the community, NPH staff members have been visiting neighboring communities and performing educational talks and training while also providing needed services. Since the pandemic can be stressful and overwhelming for some children, consultations with social workers and workshops with psychologists have been available to safely provide therapies. NPH has also created fun and engaging activities and projects, such as games and gardening for the children to entertain them that can be done from a safe distance.
International Volunteers & Visitors
In March, NPH advised its international volunteers to return to their countries of origin due to the concern of lack of healthcare available to them in certain Latin American countries if they had contracted COVID-19 before returning to their home country. Many volunteers made the heartbreaking decision to suddenly return home and were sadly unable to say goodbye to the children and staff members due to quarantine measures. Twenty-three US volunteers opted to leave in March and early April, while four chose to remain in Bolivia to work alongside permanent staff to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the homes. With that said, international volunteers are an integral part of the NPH experience for qualified professionals who are able to give a year of their lives in service to others, but due to the pandemic, the start of the next volunteer cohort has been postponed until a tentative October date to ensure the safety of all. NPH also typically offers multiple trips for supporters to visit and experience the NPH homes, but all trips have been canceled until further notice to protect children, staff, and visitors.
COVID-19 Cases in Latin America
COVID-19 is growing exponentially in Latin America for three reasons: the informal economy, the lack of safe, efficient public transportation, and the highly deficient public and private health systems. Many people earn and spend what they need on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, it would be extremely difficult for workers to quarantine or work from home if they have contracted the virus or if they are trying to decrease the risk of catching it and spreading it to their family. People use public transportation, which unfortunately has high levels of exposure risk, without taking protective measures. Lastly, economic barriers and stigma in many countries have caused the resources needed to attack COVID-10 to be diverted from their intended use. NPH’s help and focus on fighting poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean is especially needed now. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) by the end of the year, “the percentage of people in poverty [in Honduras] will rise from 54.8% to 59% (4.2% more) and the portion that lives in worse conditions, in extreme poverty, will rise from 18.7% to 22.2% (3.5% more)” (La Prensa). In Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole, the ECLAC reports that “the poverty rate is expected to jump by 4.4 percentage points in 2020, from 30.3% to 34.7%, which translates into a further 28.7 million in poverty. Extreme poverty is expected to go up by 2.5 percentage points, from 11.0% to 13.5%, which represents an increase of 16 million people. NPH will continue to fight for impoverished children and families by providing homes, food, medical services, clothes, and more.
NPH also operates the St. Damien Pediatric Hospital which is the only pediatric hospital in Haiti. St. Damien’s staff has had to interact with many people in Haiti who don’t understand the virus or are unable to take the appropriate precautions to keep themselves and others safe. In many countries including Haiti and Mexico, healthcare workers are subject to verbal and sometimes physical abuse when seen wearing their scrubs in public. Dr. Jacqueline Gautier, a pediatrician at the hospital says that people are afraid to leave their homes to seek medical help in case anyone should suspect that they may have COVID-19. Unfortunately, many of the people who do recognize that the pandemic is a threat can’t afford medical supplies and can’t miss work to quarantine. Since being selected by the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population to receive and treat all pediatric patients with COVID-19, St. Damien’s has purchased additional PPE, created new protocols, and held additional training for staff.
According to Edwin Vallecillo, the Medical Director of NPH, Latin America has a “fragile healthcare system and considering that most countries have fewer than 100 intensive care beds, extreme measures will be observed. We must all practice solidarity, practice prevention, stay home, protect ourselves, and take personal responsibility to break the chains of contagion of this dangerous virus.” Vallecillo says that NPH is a leader in their respective countries and communities as they are providing “answers by performing humanitarian work, delivering quality services, and providing a light of hope for thousands of families who fear the worst in these difficult times that we all face”.
NPH USA is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, Federal Tax ID #65-1229309. Since its founding in 1954, NPH has assisted tens of thousands of children. To learn more about NPH, visit our website at nphusa.org
All views expressed in the foregoing post are the author’s own and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Boston Network for International Development (BNID) or its members or sponsors.