Global Coronavirus Response

The novel coronavirus continues to spread around the world at an alarming rate, demanding global action to contain the virus and ensure that care is available for the most vulnerable.

Posted on Mar 13, 2020

Man on a forklift in a warehouse in Haiti
A forklift operator moves supplies around the central warehouse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo courtesy of Build Health International

The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging countries to improve efforts to contain the disease and protect health care workers, and notes that a solution calls for “aggressive preparedness,” all around the world. On March 11, 2020, the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Partners In Health (PIH) knows that COVID-19 , the disease resulting from novel coronavirus, will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and hit countries with weak health systems the hardest. The currently reported case fatality rate cannot be used to predict how this virus will devastate many areas globally, where there are not high-functioning and well-resourced health systems that can respond to an aggressive infectious disease, and where the population suffers from conditions such as malnutrition, HIV, and tuberculosis. Mortality is anticipated to be far worse in the places where PIH works, and it is unclear if the current global response accounts for these factors.

PIH has launched a comprehensive effort to support this response across its network of supported countries around the world to:

  • contain and control the spread of the virus,
  • ensure that patients are provided with dignified care, and
  • demonstrate to the world what aggressive action in vulnerable settings can achieve.


PIH is uniquely positioned to respond to COVID-19, leveraging deep experience in treating infectious disease outbreaks and responding to emergency situations around the world. PIH’s approach is successful because we: 

  • work directly alongside colleagues in countries' ministries of health,
  • forge connections to the world's leading COVID-19 responders,
  • foster strong relationships within the communities we work.


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An underestimated outbreak is now a pandemic that must be controlled

  • Because this is a novel virus, many countries are hesitating to enact aggressive containment measures, starting with widespread testing. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is now a public health emergency of international concern, a pandemic, and a massive threat to the communities PIH serves.
  • While mortality rates appear to be lower than other infectious diseases (such as Ebola virus disease, MERS, and SARS), this virus has spread to pandemic levels and its mortality rate will increase dramatically once the capacity to treat patients requiring intensive care is reached.
  • COVID-19 has already put enormous stress on the health systems of many developed countries, including the United States.
  • Some world leaders have suggested “let the virus run its course.” PIH strongly rejects this cruel, defeatist stance because we know it would be a death sentence for potentially millions of vulnerable people.

This virus will disproportionately affect developing nations

  • The virus stands poised to devastate millions of people living in low- and middle-income countries where health systems are weaker and not ready to provide the level of intensive care required by patients with COVID-19.
  • If we do not mobilize quickly to contain the pandemic, mortality rates could be far worse in the places where PIH works. Our educated guess is that without dramatic action now, they could end up at 30 percent—five times higher than the 6 percent mortality rate in Italy, which is itself 10 times higher than the rate in South Korea.
  • A current global lack of diagnostic tests, especially in developing nations, means the virus is likely spreading undetected.
  • Weaker health systems already fail to meet people’s normal health needs and will quickly collapse if the virus is not contained. Some countries have only a handful of intensive care unit (ICU) beds nationally and we estimate that as few as 200 severe cases of COVID-19 could overwhelm entire health systems in a matter of weeks.
  • The economies, safety nets, and personal circumstances of our patients are not robust enough to sustain aggressive containment measures such as remote working, social distancing, or quarantine.

If not PIH, then who?

  • PIH has always strived to preferentially bring the benefits of modern science to the poorest and sickest communities around the world. For over 30 years, PIH has successfully confronted outbreaks, from HIV to drug-resistant tuberculosis, and from Ebola to cholera.
  • Our ranks are filled with world-class global health experts who find nimble solutions proven to work in resource-poor settings.
  • We know the key to preventing and fighting any epidemic is a resilient health system, built in partnership with local ministries of health.
  • Our government partners know this and have reached out to PIH to seek help. Local ministries of health--such as those in Rwanda, Liberia, and Haiti--have been more proactive than most developed nations and have scrambled to prevent transmission of the disease early on. Rwanda, for example, has installed innovative hand-washing stations at bus parks, among other recent measures.
  • Because of these early interventions and despite the lack of available tests, we have a duty to try to contain the virus before it spreads out of control in the countries we serve.
  • PIH is a highly respected global health player and has the opportunity to lead a global coalition of public and private partners--as it has in the past--to stop this virus in its tracks and provide care for millions of patients.

What’s our plan?

PIH has already put a plan in motion to address the massive threat poor countries face. Our plan will surely evolve as the pandemic continues. Currently, the plan is divided into 4 prongs:

1. Testing

  • There is a window of time to prevent or significantly slow the spread of COVID-19, which can only be achieved with widespread COVID-19 testing.
  • Wide-scale point of care (POC) testing through skilled personnel is the only way to identify clusters, break the chain of transmission, and contain the spread of COVID-19.
  • PIH plans to screen more than 200,000 people across eight countries
  • Mobilize PIH-supported public hospitals and health centers and other health facilities throughout eight countries, in collaboration with  each nation's ministry of health.
  • Use innovative rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs)—developed in China and deployed there and in other countries—to detect the virus at PIH-supported hospitals and communities.
  • The RDTs PIH plans to deploy are innovative because they return results in as little as 15 minutes and can be done at the bedside or in the community.
  • More complicated methods of diagnosis include Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests. In most countries we serve, PCR tests are only available in a handful of nationally accredited labs, if at all. The inadequate PCR capacity could hinder measures to halt the spread of the virus, as we’ve seen in the U.S.
  • PIH is collaborating with local ministries of health to improve testing capacity for both RDTs and PCRs.


2. Provision of Care

  • PIH will continue to provide free, dignified, high-quality treatment for everyone, as part of governments’ public systems.
  • PIH is providing supportive care and treatment for patients with COVID-19, across all PIH-supported health facilities.
  • PIH also knows that additional support will be required to properly staff 24-hour acute care needs of patients with severe symptoms. PIH investments will be key, including in essential medications, human resources, oxygen supply, and fuel for generators (to ensure monitors and oxygen concentrators are connected to stable electricity), among other critical costs to ensure full access to care and treatment.
  • PIH is working to ensure that essential routine health services are not impacted during outbreak preparedness and response efforts.
  • PIH is working with MOH colleagues at more than 200 PIH-supported facilities globally to establish staffing and other response plans.

3. Assist Local Government Response

  • PIH is providing health care workers with personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gloves, gowns, and hand sanitizers.
  • In some facilities, PIH is providing simple infrastructure enhancements, such as outdoor fever tents, as needed, to reduce the risk of transmission at health facilities and ensure proper triage.
  • PIH is working to quickly train all health care workers in standard Infection Protection and Control (IPC) measures for COVID-19 and provide general education to patients at health facilities.
  • PIH is establishing triaging protocols for those meeting COVID-19 case definition to ensure designated isolated areas are available to begin treatment, as a means of preventing further infections at health facilities.
  • PIH is rapidly increasing its advocacy in the US to translate fear into commitments of long-term investments in global health funding that builds from PIH’s “five S” approach—focusing on staff, stuff, space, systems, and social support—and advocates for people-centered, rights-based approaches to emergency response and longer-term health systems (care vs. containment, durable investments vs. temporary quick fixes, etc.).

4. Mobilize Community Health Workers

  • As with any outbreak response, epidemic control relies on finding the first patients before they can significantly transmit a virus.
  • Contact tracing is being immediately implemented whenever a COVID-19 patient is diagnosed. This includes family members, but also workplaces, churches, schools, and any other locations visited by a person with confirmed COVID-19.
  • PIH relies on extensive experience in mobilizing community health workers to implement similar efforts, including responses to Ebola in West Africa and cholera in Haiti.
  • PIH is mobilizing its networks of thousands of community health workers to find those individuals who have come into contact with COVID-19 patients, advise them on the best ways to stay healthy and avoid infecting others, and safely accompany them to hospitals and clinics if their symptoms worsen.
  • For those contacts, social support (food, water, financial support, etc.) is being provided by CHWs to help families in implementing social distancing protocols, and all asymptomatic contacts will be monitored for 14 days.


See the Full Plan

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PIH’s Partnership with Massachusetts's Government in COVID-19 Response

  • In partnership with governments around the world, PIH has learned valuable lessons about what it takes to respond to infectious disease epidemics—from cholera in Haiti to Ebola in West Africa.
  • These global lessons are being applied locally to control and end transmission of COVID-19 statewide.
  • Led by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and building on the state’s existing health infrastructure, PIH is guiding efforts to trace the contacts of all sick individuals to reduce the overall number of cases, protect our communities, and safe guard health care workers.


Our Massachusetts’s Response


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