Direct Relief has committed an initial $2 million in emergency funding to support the fight against novel coronavirus in the U.S. as national health officials warn of its expected spread.
The funds are being allocated to bolster inventories of preventive and critical care equipment and supplies, provide emergency financial support to nonprofit safety-net health providers, and to backstop public health efforts conducted by state and local public health agencies.
Since January, Direct Relief has drawn down its emergency stocks to provide 35 tons of personal protective equipment (PPE) to safeguard health workers at more than 60 health facilities in areas with confirmed coronavirus cases.
The bulk of support to date has been furnished to Wuhan and other Chinese cities, where the initial outbreak occurred, and is now increasingly being provided to U.S. nonprofit health facilities, which Direct Relief supports on an ongoing basis and during emergencies.
The PPE furnished to date includes more than 800,000 N95 and surgical masks, more than 1 million gloves and other protective gear, such as protective suits, to health facilities.
Direct Relief has also staged protective gear at 12 health centers and clinics throughout the U.S., and has reserved about 500,000 N95 masks in inventory, along with other protective gear, such as gloves and protective suits, which it continues to allocate carefully to health facilities based on need.
Direct Relief operates a VAWD-accredited pharmaceutical distribution facility that is one of the world’s largest humanitarian medical warehouses with substantial cold-chain capacity. Among other roles, the privately funded organization provides support to public health agencies and is part of California’s Business and Utility Operations Center, organized to coordinate private-sector support during emergencies.
Based on the experience of and requests from Chinese hospitals that have now treated tens of thousands of patients for Covid-19, Direct Relief has ordered an initial purchase of 500 portable oxygen concentrators to ensure that supplemental oxygen is available for patients who may need it during recovery from Covid-19.
Funding will also be allocated for emergency financial support to help community health centers in the U.S. remain open, as heavy demands are anticipated on these organizations that already operate on tight budgets.
On Feb. 25, senior U.S. government health officials warned that the Covid-19 disease is likely to spread in communities in the United States. On Feb. 26, the first suspected case of transmission to a person with no known connection to foreign travel was reported.
Since front-line health workers are at highest risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus, their protection is a crucial public health priority and Direct Relief’s main focus. Health care personnel made up 3.8% of confirmed cases in China and 14.8% of cases classified as severe or critical, according to a Feb. 24 article in JAMA. While the overall case fatality rate was 2.3%, it was 14.8% among patients 80 and older.
“The seriousness of this public health issue is clear, as is the need to ensure that private resources are mobilized and provided in a coherent way,” said Thomas Tighe, Direct Relief’s President and CEO. “As Direct Relief engages more expansively in the response, we want to ensure that the front-line nonprofit health centers and clinics that serve as the safety net for vulnerable people can continue to play their essential roles, and also respond to the pressure added by this new threat.”
Direct Relief is also assisting with Covid-19 preparation in the Caribbean and South America. At the request of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Direct Relief shipped eight pallets of protective gear and other essential items to St. Lucia. At the request of the Pan American Health Organization, Direct Relief shipped protective gear to Panama.