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Article Type: News

Global Missions in a Global Pandemic: Revamping International Outreach in an Era of Limited Travel

While AdventHealth’s experts focused on supporting its 50 hospitals across the United States, the organization’s Global Missions team took on the challenge of rethinking international mission work in a global pandemic.

At this time on an average year, the Global Missions team would be deploying AdventHealth team members for mission trips to footprint hospitals in countries like Peru, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras and Rwanda, among others. 2020 has, however, not been an average year and the cancellation of flights, border control restrictions and lockdowns, along with the all-hands-on-deck need for team members at the health system’s own facilities, did not allow for these mission trips to go on as usual. With this unexpected change of plans, Global Missions shifted to support these hospitals in new ways: lifesaving personal protective equipment (PPE), curated pandemic response education and critical fundraising to meet ongoing needs.

This focus on international mission work is not new, and had been embedded into the organization since its inception.

“The work of Global Missions aligns with our mission statement and our commitment to whole-person care,” said Monty Jacobs, director of AdventHealth Global Missions. “It’s also about wanting to ensure a strong culture of service, generosity and compassion. It connects our employees to a broader global health ministry beyond the communities we serve.”

A Critical Need for PPE Outside of Haiti’s Capital

One of the first footprint institutions to receive supplies during the pandemic was Haiti Adventist Hospital, located about a half-hour outside of Port-au-Prince. AdventHealth sent donations of PPE, EKG machines and surgical supplies.

With an unprecedented demand for PPE, the hospital found itself in need of more lifesaving equipment than ever before, said Irma Henry, DPT, physical therapist at Haiti Adventist Hospital.

“AdventHealth was instrumental in keeping our hospital functional during the pandemic,” she said. “Without the PPE donated by AdventHealth, we may not have been able to adequately protect our staff, which could have been very detrimental, not only physically, but also to our morale.”

While the primary focus for AdventHealth remained to protect its team members at home, strong inventory levels allowed the health system to partner with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) to ship over 30 pallets of PPE from donation-eligible stockpiles – providing much needed face masks, gowns, sanitizers and more to Haiti and nine other countries.

Pandemic Response Education for the Hardest Hit Country

Aside from the supplies, a major need has also been pandemic response education. As the world grasped for understanding about the virus and how to best prevent and treat infections, Peru fell behind as the hardest hit country with the highest mortality rates in the world, according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

To help meet the need for education and support in pandemic response planning, the Global Missions team organized a clinical roundtable with partner hospitals in Peru which connected Peruvian physicians with AdventHealth doctors instrumental to the system’s own COVID-19 response.

“The roundtable was an opportunity to get into the details of what’s going on at these Peru footprint hospitals and share stories and experiences,” said Jacobs.

In the middle of the meeting, hospital leaders from Peru’s Clínica Americana de Juliaca sent an enthusiastic text message that they had just received their ventilator donation from AdventHealth.

In High-Elevation Regions of Peru, Oxygen is Hard to Find

The respiratory effects of the novel coronavirus have led to a dramatic increase in demand for oxygen in the mountainous country of Peru, leaving many hospitals like Clínica Americana with limited options in their high-elevation area.

According to a report by ForeignPolicy.com, the sudden demand has caused the price of oxygen to rise tenfold. Many Peruvian hospitals “do not have their own oxygen generators and instead have to source it from outside.”

On past medical mission trips, volunteers from AdventHealth have experienced altitude sickness and resorted to oxygen tanks during their time there.

“The need for oxygen has been a huge factor for Clínica Americana during COVID-19,” said Shelby Houmann, communications specialist and event coordinator for AdventHealth Global Missions. “They are currently having to go and wait at a private plant and pay for oxygen by the tankful.”

With contributions from ADRA, the South American Division of Seventh-day Adventists and other potential donors, AdventHealth is raising a significant portion of the $200,000 cost for an oxygen plant project that would give Clínica Americana its own oxygen supply.

“Our eternal gratitude will always go to our AdventHealth friends,” said Dr. Boris Alomia Padilla, director-general of Clínica Americana de Juliaca. “It is in dark times like these where there is a greater need for us to work together… not only to represent an institution, but the heart of Christ.”

AdventHealth Board members and executive leaders made contributions to four additional Global Missions initiatives in early August: community projects in Manchester, Kentucky, a sterilizer replacement for Centro Médico Vista del Jardín (Dominican Republic), the installation of a donated CT scanner for Hospital Adventista Valle de Ángeles (Honduras) and a new maternity ward for Mugonero Adventist Hospital (Rwanda).

Excess funds from this special offering will be used to support ongoing COVID-19 relief activities in the footprint hospitals.