A healthcare worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walks by hallways of the COVID-19 unit operated by MSF in collaboration with Pérez de León II Hospital in Caracas, Venezuela. --- Un trabajador de salud camina usando material de protección personal por los pasillos de la unidad de hospitalización COVID-19, que MSF opera en conjunto con el Hospital Pérez de León II en Caracas, Venezuela. © Carlos Becerra/MSF

Caracas, Venezuela: MSF withdraws from Francisca Pérez de León II hospital in Petare

Medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been forced to withdraw from the Ana Francisca Pérez de León II hospital, in Petare, northeast Caracas, where it had been helping in the response against COVID-19 since March. This decision was made after entry restrictions into the country were imposed on MSF’s specialist humanitarian personnel. These made it impossible to carry out the essential activities necessary for the care of COVID-19 patients to the standards set by the organisation.

“We have spent months looking for possible alternatives that would have allowed us to avoid reaching this irreversible outcome, but it is not possible for us to continue to work with the Pérez de León II hospital,” said MSF’s general coordinator in Venezuela, Isaac Alcalde.

MSF requested work permits for its essential staff at the beginning of the year to fill key positions in its project and has yet to receive a response from the relevant authorities. Since then, MSF has repeatedly been in contact with them to try to find a solution. “Although the international team has been replaced almost entirely by qualified Venezuelan personnel and remote consultations, we need specialist staff on site who are familiar with MSF’s processes, so we can guarantee the quality standards that are required for this type of project. Hence we have had to make this difficult decision,” added Alcalde.

Responding to COVID-19 in Pérez de León II

The collaboration with the Pérez de León II hospital, in response to the spread of COVID-19, began in March with the rehabilitation of the hospital’s biosafety area, the design of new pathways for patients receiving medical and psychological care. MSF then set-up a new inpatient ward, including an intensive care unit, by refurbishing and adapting an old wing of the hospital. MSF ran a team of almost 150 people, including doctors, epidemiologists, nurses, psychologists, technicians and hygienists, who treated COVID-19 patients in the biosafety area. MSF also provided financial support to almost 100 direct employees of the hospital, so they could continue to work there. In total, around 3,500 people have been screened for COVID-19 by MSF in this project.

Alba Ramos is treated for MSF health workers in the intensive care unit inside of the COVID-19 unit operated by MSF in collaboration with Pérez de León II Hospital in Caracas, Venezuela.Carlos Becerra/MSF

In addition, MSF’s work had an impact on other areas of the hospital, as has been recognized by the hospital management itself. Training and donations of clinical supplies have improved care for patients admitted to the hospital with other illnesses, and have improved the safety of other hospital staff.

Preparing for a second wave

MSF will gradually withdraw from the hospital. While it does so, it will place special emphasis on training staff to safely and effectively treat COVID-19. “Given the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 patients, MSF has chosen to leave some of the medical supplies and has made a donation of drugs to the hospital. We have also strengthened the application of medical protocols by training hospital staff. Our very positive relationship with them has greatly benefitted the patients that have been treated there” said Alcalde.

“For now, we are going to concentrate our efforts on treating severe and critical COVID-19 patients at the Vargas hospital and have managed to maintain our other medical programmes outside Caracas. However, we are concerned that the situation we are now seeing at the Pérez de León II hospital, caused by restrictions on the entry of humanitarian personnel, could end up affecting other MSF projects in the coming months.”

MSF reiterates its commitment to continue assisting the Venezuelan people and urges the national authorities to facilitate the arrival of humanitarian personnel, so they can continue providing quality medical care to those who need it most.

MSF in Venezuela

In Venezuela, MSF has adapted its projects in response to the COVID-19 health emergency, to give priority to the most vulnerable groups it is assisting in Anzoátegui, Amazonas, Bolívar, Sucre, Táchira and Miranda, and the Capital District, where we currently support 39 health facilities. In the first six months of this year, we conducted almost 80,000 medical consultations, 42,500 health promotion awareness-raising sessions and more than 5,000 training sessions for medical and non-medical personnel. We tested almost 110,000 people for malaria, with 25,000 positive cases diagnosed and receiving treatment. In the municipality of Sifontes in Bolívar state alone, we contributed to a 60 percent reduction in the number of positive cases of malaria between 2017 and 2020.