US-based Portals Global Consulting Group is leading an initiative to strengthen the international pandemic response by gathering expert perspectives from medical practitioners around the world, including Africa, UK, the USA and the Caribbean, into a free online resource.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres described the collaboration needed to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic as the “most massive public health effort in history.”
Heads of government from Canada, Ethiopia, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and Tunisia recently called for the global community to work together to guarantee a “managed flow” of any future COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable countries, including the small island developing states of the Caribbean.
“At Portals, we recognize that the coronavirus disease is a threat to everyone, so no-one is safe until all are safe,” said Omo Igiehon, CEO of Portals Global. “That’s why we are compiling expert perspectives of medical professionals from across the Caribbean and around the world, in service of the urgent effort to mount a global response.”
Igiehon’s mother is Jamaican, and he is an alumnus of The University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago.
In June, Portals Global supplied Fairfax County, Virginia with 15,000 KN95 masks, to boost COVID-19 response capacity in its home county. The firm has made similar donations across the USA to non-profit organizations and schools.
With the online resource, Portals enlisted health care professionals with first-hand experience of the pandemic’s ongoing impact on their local health systems.
Among them are Dr Barbara Isaac Welds, a general practitioner in Kingston, Jamaica; Dr Osafo Fraser, a Guyanese-born family physician and public health practitioner in Trinidad and Tobago; and Dr Glasha Frank, a health policy adviser in the UK, who was born in England and grew up in St Kitts and Nevis in the Eastern Caribbean.
“COVID-19 is an opportunity for governments to re-think how they do things, and therefore not to just return to the old way of doing things,” said Dr Farid Youssef, a neuroscientist and senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies. “I would be interested to see how we can re-envision human society and human development going forward, taking advantage of some of the lessons that COVID-19 is teaching us.”
The virus is creating new categories of at-risk populations, including health care professionals and other essential workers. Globally, frontline workers and disadvantaged economic groups have been hit hard by the pandemic.
“When the lockdown started, the jobs people had were not necessarily jobs where they could work from home. Many people were working in the food industry, at grocery stores, delivery guys, construction workers, many essential workers,” said Dr. Hayden Spencer, a surgical resident in the Bronx, New York, who was born in Antigua and Barbuda in the Eastern Caribbean. “Commuting actually increased after the lockdown, and that just made the impact even worse on this community.”
Up to 70 percent of New York State’s undocumented labour force consists of essential workers, many from Latin America and the Caribbean. Migrant labour makes up about 66 percent of New York State’s home health care workers and aides for the elderly, one recent research study found. Across the world, elderly residents of long-term care facilities are among those hit hardest by the pandemic.
“Nurses are used to spending time with patients, holding their hands. Now there is a very different dynamic where you have to stay six feet away, and the staff has to wear masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment. The elderly are not very familiar with who they’re looking at, all they see is their eyes. So they get very disoriented and they are very uncertain as to what is going on. They get very scared,” said Dr Keshni Ramnanan, a Trinidad and Tobago-born internal medicine specialist who practices at long-term care facilities in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
With the possible re-opening of schools only weeks away, greater focus is now being placed on children and youth.
“One of the hardest populations is the little kids,” said Dr Ekuase Sanusi, a pediatrician who practices in Atlanta, Georgia and manages a practice in Lagos, Nigeria. “It’s kind of hard if you have a kindergartner to say, ‘Hey, no, you can’t sit with your friends.’ They all want to hug each other and walk together—to be friends.”
For the launch of the resource, Portals conducted documentary video interviews with 20 medical practitioners, including public health officials, family physicians, policymakers, and healthcare workers in long-term care facilities.
Other US-based physicians contributing to the Portals resource included Dr Jason Lofton, a general practitioner and family physician in rural De Queen, Arkansas, and Dr. Heather Lubell, a pediatrician practicing in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Globally, COVID-19 is demanding new levels of international collaboration. While the Caribbean is vulnerable to economic fallout from the pandemic, the region’s medical professionals have stepped forward to lend their strength to ongoing efforts to mount a coordinated global response.