On the Frontline in Latin America’s Covid Crisis

The past year has crippled already fragile healthcare systems across Latin America. We’re privileged to have several qualified medical professionals serving with Latin Link. We spoke to two of them – Jaap and Nicola – to find out what this past year has looked like, and how they’ve held on to hope.

Covid-19 is Ecuador’s Rainforest

Jaap Bezemer is a specialist in tropical medicine and international health. He’s a Latin Link member sent from the Netherlands, living with his family in Shell, Ecuador on the outskirts of a rainforest community. Jaap serves at an outpatient clinic there.

Jaap: “Each day during the peak from April-June 2020, we would have 40 Covid-19 patients coming in, and be visiting about three severely ill patients in their homes too. A few every day needed to be sent to the hospital to be put on oxygen, but there is serious mistrust in the public hospitals here and some did not want to go. We had to treat those with oxygen at home instead.

“One patient died under my hand. He came in with advanced respiratory failure and died before we could stabilise him; resuscitation was useless.

“In jungle communities, nobody applies PPE – there is no distancing and everybody drinks from the same cups. Inevitably, the jungle was infected massively at the beginning of the pandemic, but it showed signs of reaching herd immunity by July.

“I had Covid-19 myself early on in the pandemic. As we live in an indigenous community, it was hard to avoid. An upside for me was that catching and recovering from the virus at that stage gave me the confidence to travel around providing medical care across the region.

“Although Covid-19 cases are now declining here, the knock-on effects of the pandemic are really noticeable. Hospitals seem to get fewer and fewer supplies; my cancer patients aren’t receiving their chemotherapy. Even the medication to intubate patients in intensive care is not available. The health system has collapsed.

“Of course my trust in God has kept me going through these really challenging times, and I’ve been able to share this with others. Several times I appeared on the local news and I explained why I was in Ecuador and that my faith in God helped me not to be afraid while treating Covid-19 patients.

“One time I visited an indigenous Shuar lady with Covid-19 who was feeling really scared. She was a Christian, so my team and I prayed with her. We went back several times to check on her during her recovery and we got talking about Jesus, along with her partner, who wasn’t a believer yet.

“His heart was touched during her illness, and he decided to become a Christian too. I got to pray with and encourage him in his new faith. After her recovery, the couple decided to marry and invited me and my wife to be their godparents at the wedding! It’s a wonderful story of hope to come from this difficult time.”

Reopening the Hospital

Shell used to have its own hospital, but it closed down seven years ago. We are excited to have sent a new couple to help Jaap’s team open the doors again so that people can get all the medical care they need locally. Anna-Claire and Stewart Cusick arrived in Ecuador in January for a two-year Stride placement. The plan is for Stewart to use his engineering background to help get all the hospital’s facilities up and running, while Anna-Claire treats patients.

Midwifery in Guatemala’s Pandemic

Nicola Brown is a midwife from the UK who arrived in Guatemala for a year’s Stride in January 2020. It didn’t quite go as planned. The pandemic hit as she was completing her initial three months of Spanish language study in Guatemala City. Miraculously, she was still permitted to travel across the country in April to begin her hospital placement in rural Quiché.

Nicola: “It was a bigger challenge than I was initially expecting. It was really faith-deepening to move from living in a gorgeous city and enjoying Spanish classes, to everything being unknown – not even knowing whether I should stay or if it was wiser to go back home.

“One verse kept coming up over and over again, from 2 Chronicles 20: ‘We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.’ I decided to stay in Guatemala and was thrown headfirst into the Covid crisis.

“We saw between 40-100 Covid patients from the indigenous community every single day. I, sometimes with a doctor and sometimes alone, looked after 15 to 40 pregnant patients every day. And we saw emergencies in the afternoon as well.

“One of the greatest differences and biggest joys I found working as a midwife in Guatemala, is that we had the privilege of being open about our faith. We were able to talk about God with the patients and offer to pray with them.

“As you can imagine, we had many emergencies and many difficult cases because of Covid and the lack of resources in the country. Sometimes there was very little we could do, so praying with a patient was a significant way to bring hope.”

Please thank God for the willingness of Jaap, Nicola, Anna-Claire and Stewart to go and put their skills to use in a very challenging context. Ask God to encourage them with stories of hope as they work, and empower them to bring healing and comfort where it’s most needed.

This article was first featured in the spring 2021 Latinfile publication. To read the full magazine, use the link below.

Latinfile Spring 2021