How The Afya Foundation’s 2014 ebola relief effort informed our coronavirus response

By Marissa Roberge

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Afya Foundation has a track record of successful disaster relief work. This is thanks to the relationships we have developed with health professionals at home and abroad, our stockpile of medical supply, our targeted approach to aid delivery, and the many lessons we have learned over the last 14 years. So when the novel coronavirus hit the United States in March of last year, we were prepared.

Afya is no stranger to the challenges posed by viral outbreaks. The 2014 Ebola epidemic was considered one of the largest in history. It affected multiple countries in Africa, primarily Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Afya was at the forefront of aid delivery to Sierra Leone and over the course of this work, learned many lessons that influenced our Covid-19 response.

Lesson #1: The importance of PPE cannot be understated.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought to light the importance of personal protective equipment. As Covid-19 rapidly spread, PPE became scarce around the globe making it dangerous for doctors to treat patients and near impossible to stop the spread of the virus. In the United States, where PPE is often taken for granted, hospitals in dire need of resources were forced to reuse whatever PPE they had.

For Afya, the necessity of accessible PPE was drilled home during our ebola relief effort where we saw the reuse of make-shift PPE in camps, state prisons, and rural areas. In response, Afya delivered over a million dollars worth of PPE and emergency supplies to West Africa.

After the Ebola epidemic, Afya vowed to never turn away donations of PPE, no matter how crowded our warehouses were. Our stockpile made it possible for Afya to quickly respond at the onset of Covid-19. We have delivered more than 2 million masks and 4 million individual pieces of PPE to hundreds of facilities across the United States and US territories.

Lesson #2: The loudest bark is not always deserving of our attention

It can be seductive to help the dog with the loudest bark. But as an organization committed to the underdog, Afya does the necessary research to ensure that our resources make it to the most vulnerable, not just those making headlines.

Early on in the ebola epidemic, Afya observed that Liberia was receiving the greatest attention from international aid organizations although it was just one of three severely affected countries in West Africa. Sierra Leone received much less attention but was treating its own victims in addition to refugees with ebola coming over the border from Liberia. Therefore, Afya decided to dedicate significant resources to Sierra Leone. We shipped nearly 90 thousand pounds of personal protective equipment (PPE) and emergency supplies to 13 hospitals and clinics in the region.

When it came to Covid, we took a similar approach. In the beginning, everyone needed help and Afya was happy to extend a hand wherever we could. As the pandemic progressed hospitals and private practices began to need less assistance. As a result, we began to focus our efforts on the homelessFQHCsNative American communities, and the elderly. 

Lesson #3: A “one-size-fits-all” aid agenda does not work

Afya relies on communication and trust in local leaders to guide our work. Our holistic approach to aid has proven time and time again that the typical “one-size-fits-all” approach employed during times of crisis is insufficient.

When it came to our work in Sierra Leone we turned to UNICEF.  UNICEF was working across the country in the camps and in the state prisons. The organization acted as our eyes and ears on the ground.

During Covid-19 we have relied heavily on community experts to help us provide custom and comprehensive relief packages. These experts include organizations like Covenant House, serving NYC homeless youth as well as groups like Adopt a Native Elder serving Native American communities.

Afya continues to be committed to supporting the most vulnerable and under-resourced communities and medical facilities. Give today to ensure the delivery of medical and humanitarian supplies to those in need tomorrow.