PORTSMOUTH, Ohio — Project HOPE is a global health nonprofit that “has responded to nearly every major disaster since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.” Bearing this in mind, it is almost a given that Project HOPE is also an active force in the global fight against COVID-19. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Project HOPE CEO Rabih Torbay discusses Project HOPE’s humanitarian response to COVID-19 and the importance of working with local communities to address any health crisis.
HOPE on the Horizon
Project HOPE began in 1958 with a chartered hospital ship, the SS HOPE. The SS HOPE disembarked on a journey around the world to deliver medical support to local communities and help build stronger healthcare systems for vulnerable populations. In the 14-year period since its beginnings, the ship embarked on 11 humanitarian voyages. In 1974, Project HOPE started land-based missions. Today, it is active in more than 20 countries supported by millions of experts and volunteers.
Project HOPE has been on the ground with countries affected by COVID-19 since the outset, working closely with local authorities. The organization has “massively scaled up its operations” to meet the demands of the pandemic in a four-pronged strategy:
- Supplying protective personal equipment in at-risk areas.
- Providing COVID-19 treatment training to frontline healthcare workers.
- Stationing healthcare “volunteers to provide surge staffing.”
- Assisting healthcare systems across the globe to “ensure continuity of health services.”
Project HOPE’s Accomplishments During COVID-19
- Training more than 116,000 healthcare and frontline workers in COVID-19 Response & Preparedness.
- Expanding Vaccine Literacy and Mental Health & Resiliency training.
- Delivering “more than 17.5 million pieces of personal protective equipment.”
- Providing more than “5,000 pieces of medical equipment, hygiene and sanitation supplies.”
- Reaching more than 150 nations globally with these efforts.
Project HOPE’s experience with emergency response helped the organization adapt quickly to the challenges of the humanitarian response to COVID-19. Torbay notes that the first hours of response are especially critical. This is one reason why Project HOPE ardently supports local aid and healthcare workers who first respond to any emergency health crisis.
Even before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, Project HOPE began developing a curriculum for healthcare workers in high-risk countries that aimed to help healthcare workers learn how to safely screen, triage and treat patients infected with the virus. Since vaccines became available, Project HOPE has fought to ensure vulnerable populations are not sidelined. As Torbay explains, “By making vaccine literacy, access and delivery the core of our pandemic response at this stage, we are scaling solutions that put local health workers first in custom-fit ways for diverse cultures and communities.” These focal points form part of Project HOPE’s emphasis on supporting local healthcare workers and strengthening community healthcare systems.
HOPE and High-Risk Areas
Torbay spoke of Project HOPE’s successful humanitarian response to COVID-19 in at-risk areas. At the time of Torbay’s interview with The Borgen Project, there were a number of COVID-19 surges worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, while South Africa had seen a drop in COVID-19 cases, the greater African continent suffered an 18% surge “in the week ending on July 18.” The spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant to 26 African countries does not bode well for the African continent as countries struggle to reach vaccination targets.
Torbay notes that Project HOPE has seen success across several African countries in educating healthcare workers on vaccine science and distribution. This preparation smoothed the way for vaccine rollouts while combating vaccine hesitancy and preventing vaccine waste. Project HOPE and its partners helped combat misinformation around vaccines throughout the continent.
Torbay emphasizes the importance of working closely with communities to provide “surge support” in general. Logistics can be a major issue, leading to delays in a time-sensitive situation like the COVID-19 pandemic. This is another reason why Project HOPE’s strategy of working closely with local aid workers is so important. Torbay explains it best, stating that “Local aid groups might not have the most sophisticated gears to deploy, but they have a thorough knowledge of the locations, the communities and a good understanding of the actual situation. That can make a major difference and save lives.”
HOPE Beyond the Pandemic
Project HOPE’s efforts are not solely focused on the humanitarian response to COVID-19. According to the organization’s website, the organization works in five main areas:
- Disasters and health crises
- Pandemic preparedness and response
- Infectious diseases and noncommunicable diseases
- Maternal, neonatal and child health
- Health policy
Torbay clarifies that while Project HOPE did not divert funding from ongoing health programs to combat COVID-19, funding for new, non-COVID-19 initiatives has decreased. The real cost of the pandemic is in the progress made to address health inequity in recent decades. Torbay warns that this “gap is widening.” True to this statement, the U.N. warned that the pandemic had reversed progress not just on healthcare but on all Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. “It is incumbent on us as a global community, and as humanitarians, to come together across sectors and marshal our resources for the common cause of solving these crises, reversing these losses and reinstituting trust in science,” Torbay urges.
Torbay sees the pandemic as a reminder of the organization’s mission: “placing power in the hands of local healthcare workers to save lives and shape resilient communities.” Moving forward, Project HOPE will continue to expand training and resources across borders as part of its humanitarian response to COVID-19. Emphasizing the power of global partnership, Torbay says, “When the world is facing a massive crisis, we cannot fight it alone.”
– Mckenzie Howell