For International Medical Corps, 2020 started with a response to an earthquake in Puerto Rico on January 7, and ended with a response to an earthquake in Croatia on December 29. Our teams also responded to a massive explosion that destroyed large parts of Beirut, helped end two separate outbreaks of Ebola in central Africa and continued to help people in a host of countries affected by conflict.

But the biggest emergency by far in 2020 was caused by something tiny: the novel coronavirus behind COVID-19. By the end of the year, the disease had affected virtually every nation on Earth, and—despite the hope provided by vaccines developed in record time—continues to affect people and societies everywhere.

With decades of experience treating infectious diseases, International Medical Corps quickly recognized the virus for the global threat it was. In January 2020, we began activating emergency protocols, creating guidelines to protect staff and ensure continuity of operations in 30 countries, building training programs, and releasing stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) while urgently working to source new supplies of PPE and medical equipment in an increasingly competitive market.

By March, when the outbreak had been declared a pandemic and the virus had spread to all 50 states, International Medical Corps already was responding in the US, first in our home state of California—where we would eventually support 16 hospitals and 51 long-term care facilities—and then in the hardest-hit states across the country.

We launched what would become our biggest emergency response to date amid global shelter-in-place orders and travel bans. Despite these challenges, we were able to quickly support overwhelmed healthcare facilities in the US while continuing our global programs.

International Medical Corps’ COVID-19 response in the US initially focused on providing five essentials: emergency medical field units; medical equipment; medical supplies (including desperately needed PPE); clinical staff; and training. Our focus was on critical care, due to the tremendous shortages of equipment and staff faced by hospitals nationwide, especially in the early days of the pandemic.

“It was a terrible situation,” remembers International Medical Corps President and CEO Nancy Aossey. “In some hospitals, every bed was filled with COVID patients, staff members were sick and there was no equipment or PPE. We were heartbroken and knew we had to help.”

Despite heavily strained global supply chains, our teams have managed to secure and deliver 6.5 million items of PPE in the US (totaling 25.7 million worldwide), and deploy 59 emergency medical field units, which hospitals can configure for testing, triage and treatment, or use to house additional patient beds. We also deployed 150 volunteers and staff to hard-hit hospitals to relieve exhausted frontline professionals, and developed virtual and in-person training programs that have reached almost 3,000 people. All in all, since the start of the pandemic, International Medical Corps has supported 42 hospitals and 56 long-term care facilities in 34 cities across nine states and Puerto Rico.

Now that promising vaccines have been tested and approved for use, International Medical Corps is uniquely poised to contribute to this effort, having developed a national network of partners in the US through the course of our COVID-19 response. We also have strong relationships with ministries of health in the other countries where we operate, and are working with them on strategies around cold-chain management, ways to overcome “last mile” challenges in low-resource environments, and how to conduct vaccine-information campaigns that are accurate and effective.

One example of our efforts can be found right here in our hometown of Los Angeles, where our volunteers and staff are working with Kedren Community Health Center and Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital—both of which serve at-risk communities in South LA—to vaccinate thousands of people each day while providing equipment, supplies and training. As we continue this battle here and abroad, such collaboration will be key to defeating the COVID-19 pandemic—as will the generous and unceasing support of our donors.

Rebecca Milner is chief advancement officer of International Medical Corps. To learn more about International Medical Corps’ efforts to fight COVID-19 in the US and abroad, and how you can help, visit internationalmedicalcorps.org/covid19.


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