COVID-19 Upends Hospitalito Activities
March Plans Cancelled
March began with high hopes of providing an unprecedented number of specialty surgeries, procedures, trainings and community outreach care. Volunteers were onsite or expected to arrive, including Amigos Hospitalito Atitlán Board members, a pediatrician, and emergency, family, internal medicine, gastroenterology, OB/GYN, hand, plastic and general surgeons. Starting on March 10 — one-by-one — each specialist canceled or was called back to the US. We were deeply saddened to see our friends leave, knowing that families in the greatest need would no longer be able to receive these services and surgeries.
As elsewhere, the Hospitalito is facing its greatest economic challenge. Sixty-five (65) percent of our sustainability comes from the community through small payments for medical care. The Hospitalito has been forced to limit patient care, and we are very concerned about being able to retain staff to meet medical emergencies. We have created a COVID-19 Emergency Fund in order to raise funds to keep the Hospitalito open.
As of 12:00 pm on April 6, 2020, Guatemala has 74 confirmed cases of COVID-19, three fatalities and thousands of quarantined people who receive daily monitoring by the Ministry of Health. Most of the new cases are from quarantined individuals.
The government has taken sweeping action to try to inhibit the spread of the virus — closing all borders, suspending national public transportation, and limiting all but essential services (hospitals, pharmacies, gas stations, supermarkets, etc.) In-home quarantine has been mandated for all Guatemalans and foreigners who have arriving from abroad and anyone believed to have contact with confirmed cases.
On March 22, the government put an emergency curfew in place. People must be in their homes from 4 PM to 4 AM, and on March 25th, the measures were extended until April 12th, 2020.
While we expect that the number of cases will rise and community transmission may begin, we are reassured by the president Alejandro Giammattei’s actions to contain the virus and the government’s serious response. It has created a hospital for patients in Villa Nueva, outside the capital city and another in an industrial park in Guatemala City and is working on three more in other departments.
Hospitalito Atitlán is taking measures to prepare for cases of COVID-19 in the Santiago Atitlán community and is in constant contact with government health authorities. Per the president’s orders, we have temporarily suspended outpatient clinic services and are only handling emergencies.
Entry is limited to a single door where all patients are screened for symptoms or risk of having COVID-19. Patients and family members with symptoms are taken to an isolation area to await the arrival of trained Ministry of Health workers. The Ministry of Health is taking over the care of any patient suspected to have the virus. Knowing the limited capacity of the Guatemalan National Health System, the Hospitalito is preparing in case the government becomes overwhelmed by the number of cases and begins to rely on private hospitals.
Community Projects Fieldwork
We have temporarily suspended community project fieldwork to avoid gatherings of vulnerable populations (such as diabetics), prevent potential spread, and protect staff. Our community projects team is working from home, focusing on administrative aspects of the projects such as development of educational materials/curricula and catching up with reports, data and statistics.
COVID-19 Community Health Information
It is essential that we make sure reputable information about COVID-19 is available in Santiago Atitlán’s local language of Tz’utujil. Last week we produced an educational video in Tz’utujil that is transmitted on local cable stations and shared on social media. A second video in Tz’utujil on proper hand washing was created the first week of April and can be found here.
Misinformation and rumors can be just as dangerous as the propagation of a disease.
It is of utmost importance that we remain well-informed and prepared in order to continue to work for the health and well-being of the population.