Popular Education in Health (EPES) in Chile Responds to the COVID-19 Pandemic

“We must take extreme measures to respond to this crisis. But the lesson from our sacred traditions is that these measures, where they align with the basic demands of justice, cannot be temporary. Plague in the Bible is not a storm weathered before a return to normalcy. It’s a call to come together in new ways in order to survive, hold the powerful responsible for their unjust policies and the lies they’ve told to cover up injustice, and rebuild on foundations of love and justice.”

Rev. Dr.Liz Theoharis, Sojournors
March 18, 2020
https://sojo.net/articles/plagues-expose-foundations-injustice

Warm greetings on behalf of EPES, in these difficult times for humanity. Here is a summary of the impact of COVID-19 in Chile and our response.

After five months of social mobilization with terrible violence created by the State, Chile is facing an extremely complex situation since COVID-19 arrived in the country in early March. After so many months of mass mobilization and little or no response, except government repression, many people felt that the announcement of the COVID-19 threat was just a strategy by the Piñera government to stop social organization and protests.

The epidemiologic situation in Chile

The first case of COVID-19 appeared in Chile on March 3, 2020. Currently, Chile is in Phase 4 of the epidemic: non-traceable infections, at the community and mass level. As of March 30, there are 2,449 cases, with 310 persons infected from the previous day, 122 people hospitalized, 82 with mechanical ventilation, and 8 deceased people, all older adults. The Metropolitan region presents a higher rate in the country (64% of all the cases), especially in high-income communes.

Government response

The government has implemented a system of testing by medical order to identify patients who consult in health centers, treat them, and isolate them, but that has been insufficient for the magnitude of the problem. Authorities have been implementing voluntary quarantines and the closure of public spaces and educational establishments. On March 26, a compulsory quarantine began in seven communes of Santiago (Lo Barnechea, Las Condes, Vitacura, Ñuñoa, Independencia, Providencia, and Santiago) present the most constration of reported cases.

The government has taken measures that do not consider the situation of structural inequality that exists in the country. Although quarantines are valid and recommended measures, it is crucial to accompany those measures with economic mitigation strategies and social support for the most vulnerable groups, which it has not done in Chile. Quarantines are useful for people who have resources for self-sufficiency, and most of them can work from home. In the popular sectors where EPES works, precarious, self-employed, salaried, and contract-free jobs prevail, so people cannot stay at home working, because they need to have funds to support themselves. Also, it is challenging to stock up because there are many supermarkets closed due to the outbreak.  Looting and increased control of the territories by drug traffickers affect business and people´s safety. Health services are not enough to cope with the crisis.  There aren´t sufficient human resources or necessary supplies for the protection of health personnel and care for the population. The situation of the elderly is dangerous.  Many are unable to seek health services since some are live alone or bedridden.

Projection of COVID-19 in Chile

No one is sure how this pandemic will evolve around the world.  There are several projections for Chile, but with no clarity on when the peak of contagion will be.  However, EPES hopes to return to work gradually in June to respond to the vast economic crisis, social, political, and spiritual that affects our country.

EPES Response Phases

EPES was founded during the military dictatorship when there was 80% unemployment in poor communities, thousands of people without jobs, and a general state of despair.  They responded quickly and efficiently after the 2010 earthquakes. The organization is prepared to respond to extreme situations. We will adapt our projects to accompany marginalized and severely affected communities by COVID-19 and the lack of effective government public policies before, during, and after the pandemic.

Phase 1.  Preparation for the impact of the virus (March 2020)

  • Educate and raise awareness about consequences and preventive measures in the team and with the organizations with which we work with.
  • Postpone all activities that require a face-to-face meeting.
  • Ensure that all members of the EPES team considered at-risk groups would start working from home on Monday, March 15, and the rest of the staff on March 16.
  • Establish systems to connect as a team via zoom, Whatsapp, etc.
  • Inform the EPES directory, partners, health monitors, networks, and EPES friends that we are going to work remotely.
  • Ensure permanent communication with health groups and groups advised by EPES in Santiago and Concepción through WhatsApp with specific people from our team.
  • Development of the COVID-19 section on our website and start producing and sharing educational materials through social networks.
  • In Concepción, virtual work with the regional table and organizations linked to the Social Health for All Movement and members of popular assemblies to help establish solidarity networks to distribute medicines to older and isolated adults to their homes.
  • Share educational tips, mental health, and self-care materials, preventive information, team messages, spiritual messages, etc., with the health monitors and members of the groups advised by EPES.
  • Provide direct financial support to 50 monitors and their families to buy food and materials for the quarantine (most families live month to month and have no additional resources to purchase food during a 2-week quarantine (we provide 50,000 Chilean pesos per person).
  • Maintain contact with the Haitian immigrant community in El Bosque: providing educational materials when possible in Creole and donating to an emergency fund to help immigrant families.

Phase 2.  The massive direct impact of COVID19 on the Chilean population (April to June 2020)

  • Hold regular EPES Team meetings to support each other.
  • Call the monitors directly and regularly.
  • Hold regular meetings with health groups to provide mutual support.
  • Provide direct support to women facing situations of violence or possible violence due to quarantine (identify these women through the networks of health promoters and contact them).
  • Maintain contact with IELCH, ELCA, Global Ministries, EPES board, and AHA board.
  • Have an emergency fund for extreme cases within our networks (maximum total of US$5,000)
  • Share all self-care materials for women, children, and families.
  • Share messages of faith, hope, and opportunities to participate in moments of prayer, etc.

Phase 3 Post-COVID-19 pandemic (June-December 2020)

  • Initial visits to all community health groups, networks, IELCH, etc., to receive updates on their individual situations.
  • Emergency diagnoses to develop lines of action.

Implementation of face-to-face and online activities of each project, depending on the context.