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COVID-19: Executive Director Jennifer Tierney talks on ABC TV NEWS 24

20 Apr 2020

Jennifer Tierney, Executive Director of MSF Australia spoke with Andrew Geoghegan, ABC TV NEWS 24 about the effect of COVID-19 on populations in the Americas and in Africa.


Andrew Geoghegan: Let's return to coronavirus numbers and turn overseas with the total number of cases in Latin America. It is now exceeded 100,000 there and more than 5,000 people have died. Brazil has the highest number of cases on the continent and half the fatalities in the region. Peru has the second highest tally.

Jennifer Tierney is executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières Australia and she joins us now from Sydney. Thanks for joining us today. Could we just first look at South America, what is happening there at the moment. The numbers are rising quite significantly. How concerned are you?

Jennifer Tierney: MSF is working in multiple countries throughout South America preparing our projects - the existing ones and starting new projects for COVID-19. We have projects in Haiti, Brazil, El-Salvador and we are extremely concerned. We are often dealing with people who don't have the luxury of social distancing or access to clean water in the same way that we do, which means that the prevention of the spread of the disease is a bigger challenge in the context in which we work.

Our programs are getting ready, both creating isolation wards in existing facilities in Haiti that we have, where we are working in a hospital where we already have a project. In Mexico, for instance, we are working with asylum seekers and refugees to make sure we create information for people about how to stem the spread of the disease and how to take care of themselves and isolate themselves if they do have symptoms.

Andrew Geoghegan: As we mentioned there, Brazil recording the highest number of cases, 300 deaths in the past 24 hours. There has been a lot of criticism certainly within Brazil, the approach the Government has taken, led by President Jair Bolsonaro. Is the Government there doing enough to combat COVID-19?

Jennifer Tierney: For us, the most important thing is that we work with the ministries of health and the Government, where we are to protect our health care workers. For us, we are emphasising with governments that that be a priority. We need access to PPE, to personal protective equipment for front line health workers so they can continue not only to deliver COVID-19 response but to provide the care in Brazil and other places that they are providing, on an ongoing basis.

Andrew Geoghegan: Let's turn to Africa. There is considerable concern, in terms of preparedness on the continent, because we haven't really seen the virus take hold there as yet?

Jennifer Tierney: We are working in about 15 countries throughout Africa. I will give you one example, for instance, we are working in Borno State in Nigeria where we are focusing on a population of 1.5 million internally displaced people. They live in squalid conditions, often in insecure conditions. They don't have access to clean water, to drink, never mind to wash their hands. They don't have access to soap. What we are doing is making sure that we are reconfiguring our projects there and throughout Africa to continue care for patients we do have. If you have a very large malaria project which is running rampant throughout Africa right now. We have one of the biggest malaria outbreaks in the world in the DRC at this point in time. It is important we reconfigure the way we do our work so people aren't necessarily coming to us and gathering in big groups to get care. We are putting people out into the community to provide care and changing the way we do things to respond.

Andrew Geoghegan: Briefly, can you give us an assessment of the situation with our Pacific neighbours and in particular Papua New Guinea?

Jennifer Tierney: We are seeing an increase in numbers as we are in many locations. I go back to the message about personal protective equipment. It is incredibly important that we have it in Papua New Guinea. We have a tuberculosis population there and that is a high risk. We need to get the staff to PNG and to Indonesia. We are looking for humanitarian exemptions on travel and we are looking for safe ways to get our stuff in and out of those countries in the region.

Andrew Geoghegan: What are you seeing as far as the numbers are concerned in PNG?

Jennifer Tierney: I won't provide numbers because I don’t have the update over the weekend and that is for the Ministry of Health and the Government to provide. We can confirm we have seen cases and we are doing a lot of training in the facilities in which we work so that the health care staff know how to triage patients, know how to actually look for the signs of COVID-19 and isolate and take care of themselves.

Andrew Geoghegan: Jennifer Tierney from Médecins Sans Frontières, thanks very much.


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