For months, Barbados avoided a major outbreak of Covid-19.
At the end of 2020, the island nation – with a population of about 287,000 people – had seen fewer than 350 cases, and only seven deaths, said Lieutenant Colonel Junior Browne of the Barbados Defense Force.
But then, tourist season started.
“With more people coming in, there was a greater chance of something happening, and that led to community spread eventually,” Browne said.
In the months since, those numbers have climbed. According to Reuters, Barbados has seen 2,971 infections and 31 deaths since the pandemic’s beginning.
The country has launched an active response. In 2020, the government decided to set up an isolation unit for Covid-19 patients and recently established a new lockdown to combat the spread.
The Barbados Defense Force – which has the only WHO-classified Type 1 emergency medical team in the Caribbean – created testing facilities and a field hospital to support Barbados’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
“We were planning before we had even one positive case here in Barbados,” Browne said.
The field hospital is used to assist Queen Elizabeth Hospital with triaging potential Covid-19 cases. While the hospital had the staff it needed to run effectively, it was short of cots, beds, medicines, and other supplies.
The Barbados Defense Force reached out to the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) – the branch of the WHO that works specifically in the Americas – to ask for support. And in turn, the organization reached out to Direct Relief.
At Direct Relief headquarters
Every two weeks, Anna Lopez-Carr, a monitoring and evaluation specialist on Direct Relief’s Research and Analysis team, updates the organization’s Covid-19 International Vulnerability Index – a tool that takes a series of variables into account to determine how hard a country is likely to be hit by Covid-19.
“We wanted something that would go beyond just the Covid incidence and give us a better idea of how resilient some of these countries would be in terms of dealing with Covid,” Lopez-Carr said. The team takes into account the case incidence, but also considers hospital bed availability, population age, food insecurity, and the levels of other diseases.
“It’s something we can do to support the organization in terms of data and general knowledge or intelligence about Covid trends around the world,” said Lopez-Carr.
Cydney Justman, a senior emergency response manager, explained that the index has played a significant role in making decisions about where to send aid.
“Most of our partners in our global network are under increased stress, are experiencing a new sense of urgency in their work, and feel like the situation requires international assistance,” she said. “Really having data to look at that objectively is so helpful.”
A few weeks ago, Lopez-Carr noticed that Barbados’s vulnerability to Covid-19 – along with that of a few other nations – had increased.
At the same time, Justman was considering a request from PAHO on Barbados’s behalf.
She explained that Direct Relief receives urgent requests for assistance from all over the world, so the data provides focus on how and when to support the organization’s partners.
Having the information from Research and Analysis – which matched what she was hearing from PAHO – was instrumental. “I was aware of their increased vulnerability and it really matched up with that information from in-country,” she said.
The work that Research and Analysis does has long played a significant role in the Emergency Response team’s work. Justman used the example of the Hurricane Preparedness Map, which uses historical hurricane data to determine what locations are most vulnerable to tropical storms. Emergency Response uses the data to determine where to pre-position Hurricane Preparedness Packs, which contain the medications and supplies most frequently needed after a storm.
Still, Justman said, “every member of my team works with Research and Analysis in a different way, applying the tools they create to optimize our global efforts.”
Justman’s team decided to support the Barbados Defense Force with more than 1,900 pounds of medical aid, including cots, a tent, and two Emergency Health Kits, each of which contains the medications and supplies to treat up to 1,000 patients for 30 days.
“We are trying to prepare ourselves to battle on several fronts, so the Direct Relief equipment and supplies will help us do that,” Browne said.
Browne explained that Barbados isn’t just prepared to respond locally. It’s also ready to help out neighbors in the Caribbean, should the need arise.
And Covid-19 isn’t the only threat. Hurricane season is coming. And nearby St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been experiencing an effusive volcanic eruption, to which the Barbados Defense Force is prepared to respond.
The donation “will help us extend our range of support here at home…and it will also assist us should we have to deploy otherwise as well,” he said.
Browne explained that Barbados has a well-defined strategy to combat the pandemic. A primary roadblock has been a shortage of medical supplies.
“Sometimes we lack the materials to work with,” he said. “There are a lot of things we can do on our own, but we just need a little assistance to get things going.”