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Direct Relief Expands Medical Aid to More Than Two Dozen Countries Fighting Covid-19

As Covid-19 growth flattens in the U.S., Direct Relief boosts emergency support around the world, including extensive work in Latin America and the Caribbean.



A 8.8-ton Direct Relief shipment arrives in Quito, Ecuador, on June 4, 2020. The shipment contained ICU kits, filled with essential medicines to treat Covid-19 complications, as well as oxygen concentrators, protective gear and other requested medical items for health facilities in the country. (Photo by Isadora Romero for Direct Relief)
  • Emergency shipments of ICU medicine to 27 countries continue to depart Direct Relief’s warehouse
  • Direct Relief-sponsored charter flight en route to Panama with medical aid for distribution to Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) member states
  • Covid-19 hotspot Ecuador receives a critical infusion of medical support from Direct Relief

As countries in Latin America, Africa and South Asia became the latest hotspots of the Covid-19 pandemic, Direct Relief has accelerated its response in these regions, beginning with shipments of enough Covid-related emergency medicine and medical supplies to treat more than 50,000 intensive-care patients in developing countries around the globe.

Shortly after it began its Covid-19 response in January, Direct Relief began identifying and procuring medicines that would be needed by intensive care units treating Covid-19 patients. Working with critical care specialists and healthcare companies, Direct Relief developed ICU Critical Supply Modules that could be prepackaged, stockpiled and rapidly deployed in the event of drug scarcity. The international version of the ICU Modules contains medications and supplies selected to treat up to 500 ICU patients.

Direct Relief has begun dispatching 115 ICU Modules to 32 partners in 27 countries across Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Southeastern Europe. They are being sent with stocks of personal protective equipment and oxygen concentrators, and some partners have requested and are receiving donated ventilators.

Direct Relief’s largest international shipment to date of Covid-19 relief supplies arrived in Ecuador on June 4. Responding to a request from the Government of Ecuador, Direct Relief shipped seven ICU Critical Supply Modules and 90 portable oxygen concentrators, plus basic supplies and medicines for both Covid-19 and general medical care. In all, it shipped 26 pallets of essential medicines and supplies weighing 8.8 tons.

Medical supplies are offloaded from a charter flight and loaded onto trucks for distribution across Ecuador in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by Isadora Romero for Direct Relief)
Medical supplies are offloaded from a charter flight for distribution to health facilities across Ecuador in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by Isadora Romero for Direct Relief)

Direct Relief has also so far delivered 164 domestic ICU Modules to hospitals in the United States, each containing supplies designed to treat up to 100 hospitalized patients. Hospitals treating severely ill ICU patients—including those on ventilators—need medication for sedation and to address some of the secondary complications that may arise, including bacterial pneumonia and septic shock. The ICU Critical Supply Modules include antibiotics such as azithromycin and ceftriaxone, vasopressors such as norepinephrine, and respiratory medications like albuterol inhalers.

How Recipients Were Selected

Because the needs of Direct Relief’s partner network far exceed the available resources, Direct Relief carefully selected recipients based on a series of criteria including Covid-19 patient numbers, ICU capacity, status of the proposed recipient hospital as a nationally recognized center of Covid-19 treatment, logistical ability to clear customs and receive the shipments, and direct requests from national Ministries of Health.

The information was cross-checked with national vulnerability data based on Direct Relief’s new Covid-19 International Vulnerability Index Map. The index assigns vulnerability scores to countries based on indicators including co-morbidities, number of hospital beds, population over 60, food insecurity and Covid-19 case counts.

In South America, ICU Module recipients include Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru. In the Caribbean and Central America, ICU Modules are being sent to Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica and St. Lucia. In EMEA, recipients include Armenia, Ghana, Italy, Kosovo, Lesotho, Liberia, Macedonia, Malawi, Palestine, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Yemen and Zimbabwe. In Asia, Dhulikhel Hospital in Nepal is receiving two ICU Modules.

The ICU Modules are only one part of Direct Relief’s Covid-19 response outside the U.S. Direct Relief has provided grant funding to treat Covid-19 among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, to help build dedicated Covid-19 isolation and treatment wards in Haiti and the Philippines, to purchase PPE in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and India, and—via a $50,000 emergency grant to the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States—to increase Covid-19 testing capacity in Saint Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda. The organization has also provided ventilators and other critical medical items to several countries.

Latin America Response

Direct Relief has a key strategic partnership with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the division of the World Health Organization overseeing 35 countries in the Americas. Direct Relief has arranged a charter flight carrying $7 million in PPE purchased by PAHO to be delivered to many of its member states across the Americas. The charter is currently scheduled to arrive in Panama this week.

Supported in part by generous financial and material donations from Coca-Cola Foundation, Bayer Mexico, Johnson & Johnson, 3M and AstraZeneca, Direct Relief donations to Mexican health partners include 350,000 surgical masks for hospitals, 10,000 goggles and 30,000 face shields.

Another large shipment containing PPE, Emergency Medical Backpacks, general medicines and other supplies was delivered to the Ministry of Health of Bolivia, which is facing multiple health emergencies including Covid-19 and a dengue outbreak. Additional Covid-19 preparedness donations containing Emergency Medical Backpacks and PPE have been sent to PAHO member states including Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay.

Since Direct Relief’s first Covid-19 response shipment on Jan. 24, 2020, the organization has sent $23 million in medical aid to South America via 26 deliveries. Internationally excluding the United States, Direct Relief has distributed 1.4 million masks, 1.3 million gloves and more than 500,000 other PPE supplies.

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