Partners in Health Responding to Global COVID-19 Pandemic


BOSTON, Massachusetts —  Partners in Health is an international nonprofit whose mission is to promote social justice through providing medical care to those most in need around the world. Founded in 1987 in rural Haiti, Partners in Health now works with the national governments of 11 countries spanning four continents, including Haiti, Kazakhstan, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi and Mexico. The organization employs 18,000 staff members, all working to establish and strengthen quality healthcare systems in these countries.

Partners in Health

Half of the world’s population does not have access to basic healthcare, leading to thousands of preventable deaths. For example, 800 women die of pregnancy and childbirth-related causes daily. Of these maternal deaths, over 99% occur in developing nations where citizens have limited healthcare access. In 2019, 14,000 children under five died every day from largely preventable causes. Partners in Health works, therefore, to bridge this gap in healthcare, providing medical assistance to the areas in the world that need it the most. In 2019, the organization provided 1.6 million outpatient visits in its clinics, one million women’s health checkups and more than 800,000 home visits conducted by community health workers.

In addition, Partners in Health collaborates with Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital on the Global Health Delivery Partnership. Launched in 2007, the partnership pushes for innovative research to be published in medical journals and implemented in the world’s most vulnerable communities.

The HIV Equity Initiative

Partners in Health established the HIV Equity Initiative in 1998. This initiative was aimed to provide antiretroviral therapy, which is a treatment often regarded as too expensive and complex for implementation in many poor communities. However, the organization provided the treatment for a group of Haitian patients living in underdeveloped areas that tested positive for HIV. As a result, all patients recovered. This sent a clear message to the global health community that it is feasible to deliver cutting-edge disease treatments to even the most vulnerable communities. Following this success, organizations such as the Global Fund, PEPFAR and the World Health Organization followed Partners in Health’s footsteps, committing to significant funding increases to combat HIV globally.

Partners in Health and COVID-19

The nonprofit has now shifted its focus to COVID-19 response in vulnerable communities where the virus is expected to have the most devastating effects. These areas have severely lacking medical infrastructure and simply do not have enough resources to combat the pandemic. Therefore, Partners in Health estimates that in some countries where the organization works, the COVID-19 mortality rate could potentially reach 30%. These countries are facing a shortage of diagnostic tests and intensive care unit (ICU) beds. This means that even as few as 200 severe COVID-19 cases could overwhelm the countries’ healthcare systems in just a few weeks. Additionally, those most vulnerable do not have the safety nets and personal circumstances necessary to adjust to online working, social distancing and quarantine mandates.

Partners in Health has experience responding to other infectious disease outbreaks such as Ebola, HIV, drug-resistant tuberculosis, cholera and Zika virus. The organization has global health experts who work with local ministries of health to build strong healthcare systems that can fight any outbreak. Given this, many local health ministries have contacted Partners in Health for assistance during the current pandemic.

Partners in Health plans to combat the COVID-19 outbreak through a variety of measures. First, the nonprofit will give tests to over 200,000 people in eight countries. To administer these tests, the organization and local health ministries will work to improve the testing capacity of rapid diagnostic tests and Polymerase Chain Reaction tests. Second, the organization will provide healthcare to all COVID-19 patients in Partners in Health clinics and hospitals. Third, the nonprofit will collaborate with national governments to advocate for funding and long-term building of medical infrastructure and high-quality healthcare systems. Lastly, the organization will mobilize local healthcare workers to push for contact tracing systems.

The Way Forward

Partners in Health is using its decades of experience to deal with infectious disease outbreaks and respond to the global pandemic. Not only is the organization supplying many countries in need with personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, but it is also working to provide support and long-term assistance in building efficient healthcare systems around the world. Thanks to organizations like Partners in Health, the fight against COVID-19 around the world is becoming more hopeful.

– Mizuki Kai
Photo: Flickr


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