Tathiana Moreno, Manager of Essential Areas of the Ecuadorian Red Cross, works every day managing efforts to keep the Ecuadorian population healthy.
According to official figures, there would be 33,582 confirmed cases and 2,799 deaths in Ecuador at the time of writing, but as in many other parts of the world, it is difficult to rely on government figures for lack of efficiency or transparency. In Ecuador, 20% of the deceased are medical personnel.
Before joining the Ecuadorian Red Cross, Moreno worked at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and at the Ministry of Health. By phone with Global Voices from Quito, she offers Global Voices a direct look at her humanitarian work from one of the epicenters of the pandemic in Latin America. The interview was edited for reasons of clarity and space.
Gabriela Mesones Rojo (GMR) How is the Ecuadorian Red Cross managing in the context of the pandemic?
Tathiana Moreno (TM): The first change is that we no longer work with volunteers, despite having greatly increased the pace of work. We are currently handling deaths confirmed by COVID-19 and presumed deceased of COVID-19, in accordance with the worldwide provision for the decent management of bodies. We also started a service to collect and donate blood at home because the quarantine measures have closed the blood banks. It is a protocol that is only being done in Ecuador and the Ecuadorian Red Cross provides 80% of the blood nationwide.
Also oWe organize a water, sanitation and hygiene program, mainly in Santo Domingo, Santa Elena, Guayas and Cañar where there is also a dengue problem. In Guayaquil, the most contagious area is a very high class neighborhood, in which many people were returning from a trip; while the area with the highest mortality from COVID-19 is the poorest neighborhoods. It is implied that there is a link with access to services, mainly the lack of water.
This week we also activated a pilot project, a respiratory triage center, to help decongest hospitals where people with respiratory problems can be cared for. We are going to start it in Quito, and if it turns out we will expand it nationwide.
HWe offer telemedicine and psychosocial support to our staff and we have strengthened our support for the migrant population in 22 shelters. We have also coordinated online courses on infection prevention and control and Emotional Well-Being in the face of COVID-19 and prevention in confinement. All this involves enormous logistics with very high costs.
GMR: How have you coordinated and maintained the provision of necessary medical equipment while reporting such shortages at the national level?
TM: Finding what we need is proving very difficult. Ambulances are indeed using safety equipment, but they have been extremely difficult to obtain. Before the virus arrived in Ecuador, the N95 mask box cost $ 3.95. Today a single N95 mask costs $ 4. The complete biosafety suit (suit, boots, batons, glasses, gloves) costs $ 64. That means that each care we do, which includes an ambulance driver, paramedic, and assistant, is a minimum of $ 200 that goes to the trash after each care. This is not covered by the state, because the Red Cross runs its own funds, both equipment and training.
GMR: What is the work like with migrant shelters?
TM: The Red Cross has had a program for migrants for about a year and a half and we have a very close relationship with the migrant community. The Red Cross opened a line to collect donations for migrants in street situations, vulnerable, without support networks and dependent on informal work. The government, by law, has issued a decree that prevents people from charging services or kicking people out of a house for rent while the state of emergency lasts, but records show that many migrants and Ecuadorians are being affected. We have many people returning to Venezuela by trail due to this situation.
GMR: Do you have a record of how many people are looking to return to their country of origin?
TM: Our registry ranges from 40 to 700 people who seek to go out by trail daily. These are not official figures, but are records that we make through alliances with the Foreign Ministry and other migratory structures. This situation is seen mainly with the Venezuelan community, because they are the ones who have come in the last migratory waves to Ecuador. We are talking about people who have been in the country for less than a year, and therefore their membership ties and support systems are weaker. The Colombian population may have a history of 10 to 12 years in Ecuador and the Haitian community grew after the 2010 earthquake, so they are already entrenched in the country. Instead, the Venezuelan community feels a vulnerability and a great fear. Many testimonies speak of how they are afraid that if they die and are cremated in another country and that their relatives do not find out.
GMR: How have the medical personnel who are on the front line serving COVID-19 patients feel at this time?
TM: In the case of the province of Guayas, one of the most affected areas, we had 53 infected people, 1 deceased and 1 in critical condition already in recovery. Many were afraid of infecting their relatives, so we set up a space for them to quarantine. The situation is very hard and complex. It is not a distant situation either, these are our colleagues, comrades in struggle.
Nationwide we have a total of 4 deceased linked to COVID-19. The last person who died was not even in the front line, but doing telemedicine from home. But the contagion is so high that he still got sick.
This situation has allowed us to rethink life, our role, our functions as an institution. At the Red Cross we believe in humanity, in alleviating human suffering in all circumstances. These times show us the importance of the red cross and that more than ever that our principles are in force.