I bet there are a lot of us who are closely tracking the COVID cases in Latin America. The reports coming out of Manaus (a city of over 2 million people in northwestern Brazil) are incomprehensible and altogether a clarion call to the rest of Latin America and the world. This backdrop makes what happen over the past two weeks even more otherworldly.
About two weeks ago, I received a call from a physician who has been a Health Bridges partner for several years. He called to ask if I knew how to get health equipment (PPE, oxygen, etc.) into Brazil. He was calling on behalf of his daughter, an academic anthropologist who runs a venerable climate and forest NGO (GCF Task Force) funded in part by Norway and which partners with the UN.
After briefly exchanging text messages and emails, we quickly got on a call. Dr. Colleen Scanlan Lyons explained to me that the situation in Amazonas was shifting from bad to unfathomably devastating. She said that the Governor of Amazonas released an open call to the global community for COVID relief – and asked if there anything Health Bridges could do to help?
Well, we’re Health Bridges, and building bridges is what we do! I told her I would do everything I could to help. I talked with her about a small project we recently helped pilot in Arequipa with Father Alex to use oxygen concentrators to prevent pulmonary decompensation and avert the need for more critical intubation and mechanical ventilation. We talked about the specifics of the project and how it may apply to the circumstances in Brazil. We then hung up and promised to stay connected.
I quickly contacted partners and went to work identifying resources we could link to Amazonas. One of those partners is an organization with an almost 75-year history helping the world in times of great struggle. Direct Relief has also helped Health Bridges procure medication for children in our Ines Project. I didn’t know if they could help, but it was worth a try.
Within hours of receiving my email, we were on a call with Direct Relief (Cydney and Erick), Dr. Colleen from GCF Task Force, and Secretary Eduardo Taveira from the Government of Amazonas. The number of WhatsApp messages, text exchanges, and emailed documents that went back-and-forth in just a few short days was mind blowing. Cydney at Director Relief and Secretary Eduardo were tireless in their efforts. They were so inspiring in their commitment to find the resources to help. Suffice-it-to-say, in a brief period – a need, health support for Amazonas in Brazil, and resources, oxygen concentrators and PPE, were connected. The connections made it possible to save thousands of lives.
There are a number of moving parts to this story that genuinely illustrate the power of collaboration and connection. I’m afraid adding those details would change this from a Blog post to a novel. One thing is clear, building bridges has never been more critical. We are living in a time when reaching out and creating connections will save lives. Now is the time for building bridges.