2019 Christianson Fellow Gabriela Pages started volunteering with Socios En Salud (SES), a subsidiary organization of Partners In Health (an NGO bringing health care to marginalized communities) in Peru in August 2019. COVID-19 forced her to evacuate in March 2020, impacting her role supporting a tuberculosis mobile screening project in the communities of Lima Norte. Here Gabriela reflects on her whirlwind experience.
It’s been a challenging year, full of what seems like a never-ending lineup of unexpected and dreadful events. COVID-19 has significantly impacted Peru, with more than 530,000 reported cases and 26,000 deaths as of mid-August.
SES is a critical force in reducing rates within the country. They’ve donated 30,000 rapid diagnostic tests to the Peruvian Ministry of Health, completed more than 2,900 COVID-19 molecular tests, and provided socio-economic support to more than 1,500 individuals throughout the course of the pandemic—just to name a few of the numerous strategic efforts that they’re spearheading around the country.
The COVID-19 global pandemic also resulted in a premature end to my time in Peru. I had to return to the U.S. in March, seven months into my year-long role supporting a project providing tuberculosis (TB) screening to marginalized communities. Nonetheless, my work with SES continued remotely in new capacities.
I originally supported TB Móvil, an active-case finding study for TB (“active case finding” is a strategy in which vulnerable, at-risk communities are actively reached for TB screening, as opposed to passive case finding in which symptomatic individuals seek out care). TB Móvil is a vehicle with state-of-the-art technology to predict the presence of TB in just 10-15 minutes. It paused operations for several months due to the pandemic, but began operating again in June and continues to provide free TB diagnostic services in the communities of Lima Norte.
Since I had to leave Peru, I changed gears and began supporting SES in the operational planning for the launch of their first-ever, in-house clinic and research facility called the Center for Global Health. The Center will specialize in treatment and hospitalization for multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB). SES is collaborating with Build Health International, a non-profit organization that aims to construct health infrastructure of the highest quality in resource-limited settings, to design and construct the Center.
This TB clinic shares the mission of TB Móvil: to provide high-quality health care to the most vulnerable populations in Lima. Construction was slated to start this year, but it’s also experiencing delays due to the pandemic.
Overall, this past year has taught me to remain resilient and flexible through the unknown. I am incredibly humbled and honored to continue to work in this new capacity with such an inspirational organization. I miss Peru very much and hope to return as soon as it’s possible; 2020 has been a whirlwind in so many ways and my thoughts always remain with those affected the most by this pandemic in Peru and all over the world.