Mission El Salvador 2020: Elite force against Covid-19

COVID-19 El Salvador

An intervention team from SAMU has been deployed to El Salvador in response to a call from their government to SAMU First Response at the beginning of July. The team of 28 is there to help them as they face the sanitary crisis caused by COVID-19. 

Given the situation in El Salvador, the Ministerio de Salud made an official call to Carlos Álvarez Leiva, President of SAMU, to provide assistance to a national hospital in San Salvador, the nations capital. The hospital has been recently inaugurated by president Nayub Bukele. The hospital counts with 1,000 beds of emergency and ICU support, making it the biggest hospital in Latin America. The urgent petition comes as there is a great need of volunteer medical support at all levels for at least a month. This call also comes with a need for instruction and knowledge transfer, something deep into SAMU’s mission and structure. 

To respond to the call, SAMU has gone through an intense selection process in which more than a 100 professionals from different parts of Spain have applied. On July 29th, the team of 28 professionals departed to San Salvador on a month long mission. 

The volunteers reported for duty on July 28th at the Escuela SAMU facilities in Gelves, Seville to depart to Madrid on a bus organized by our team. On July 29 they left on a charter plane to San Salvador. 

“We are a young team with a call to service and a willingness to share the institutional knowledge we have acquired during the last 30 years of missions and 20 years of training from our organization. We are eager to share the best practices that have been developed from the protocols on the fight against covid in Spain.” Says Juan Gonzales de Escalada, director of SAMU emergency services and leader of the mission. 

The departure was attended by many of our local authorities who came to wish the best to our team as they departed on this trip. Among them were Rafael García Villa, delegate from the Human Resources and Mobilization office from the local mayor’s office; Carma Tápies, Leader of the Humanitarian Action office in the Andaluza Agency of International Cooperation; Christophe Sougey De Funes, French Consul in Seville; Ignacio de Cossío Pérez de Mendoza, Consul from El Salvador in Seville; Alfonso Carmona Martínez, president of the School of Doctors in Seville; and Pilar Cordero Ramos, Vice President of the School of Nursing in Seville. 

Before the departure there were many emotional moments from our volunteers and their families as they wished them good luck and said their goodbyes. 

“As a mother I am afraid, what she is going to do is dangerous, there is a risk of contagion but I understand that is her calling and I’m here to support” said one of the relatives from our volunteers. 

As of July 29th there are approximately 270 new cases a day in El Salvador. 87% of the confirmed cases are in the nation’s capital. The Salvadorian Ministry of Health identified the first original cases of Covid-19 in the country back on April 10. At the beginning of July there were of 8,000 cases and 209 diseased. Health authorities predict the peak to hit in August and the country does not count with enough professionals to respond. 

“The call for medical volunteers will create a long lasting impact in our country. We are excited to continue building our relationship with SAMU Foundation as we all continue the fight against the virus, always improving the condition of our community” as stated by the Government of El Salvador. 

SAMU has extensive expertise in emergency interventions during catastrophes and has acquired a lot of know how in the fight against Covid-19. During the time of peak cases in Spain, SAMU was at the frontlines of the response, providing sanitary response by setting up temporary hospitals in Hotel Alcora, located San Juan de Aznalfarache in Seville, and the Residence del Tiempo Libre El Burgo, located in Línea de la Concepción, Cádiz, in order to provide medical services to elderly people with  Covid-19. SAMU also participated in the transfer of Covid patients from Madrid and Toledo. 

SAMU launches a program of distance learning for students with hearing impairment

After the state of emergency was declared in Spain as a result of the global crisis caused by Covid-19, the 16th of March marked the closing date for all education centers in the country, at all levels. The closing force centers and teachers to change their methodology and go from an in person to 100% virtual in record timing creating a great challenge for the education community. 

Distance learning has allowed a great section of the student population to continue with instructions. However, students with hearing impairment have not been able to advance their studies because interpreters have not been provided by public administration. 

“This has created a great prejudice towards students with hearing impairment, alongside an increasing learning gap between them and other groups” explains Conchi Pérez, chief of student services at SAMU. 

With this situation, SAMU has moved to develop a program of distance learning for students with hearing impairment. The program has been presented to the Agencia Pública Andaluza de Educación de la Consejería de Educación, and later shared to all other autonomies throughout the country. 

The main purposes of this new program is to address the educational needs of this special group so they can level up with their peers. This will further help the social and labor integration. “This project is born out of the needs to adapt our educational system to work under the current sanitary crises created by Covid-19” says Conchi Pérez. “The main objective is to get the information that educators provide in their classrooms or from their homes and make sure that there is no learning loss to the students in the higher education and vocational centers”

In order for distance learning to reach all students equally, the program will have a virtual platform using existing technology, in which all students can connect at the same time and to provide an interpreter. That way the students will gave equal access to both the instructor and interpreters, maintaining a situation similar to their previous in classroom experience. This will be possible given the previous access to materials provided to interpreters so that they are ready to transmit what is needed to learn. 

“The only thing needed is access to the platform to the students, instructors and interpreters, with reliable internet access and camera and audio capabilities” explains Conchi Pérez. “The student will have the opportunity to participate during online sessions, raising questions and answering at the same time as the rest of the students”.

SAMY wants to expand this program beyond the regular educational cycle into the summer break to supplement learning as it will be offered to other students during the month of July. This will allow all student to catch up with any learning loss emerging out of the pandemic. “If needed, this program can prolong into the fall, given the uncertainty with the return to in person schooling”

The area of Education Services at SAMU counts with a team of over 70 interpreters of sign language that provide in classroom services during the regular school year in education center in the province of Almería, Huelva, Jaén, Cádiz y Córdoba.

Starting on July 16, Fundación SAMU will also provide accompanying services for people with hearing impairment Comunidad de Madrid, for which it already counts with a body of 24 sing language interpreters.

Close to 600 children under the protection of SAMU

The massive arrival of immigrants in small boats to the Andalusian coast in recent years has put all the social entities involved in this phenomenon on alert, among them the SAMU Foundation, which currently hosts about 560 minors who have arrived clandestinely to Spain without being accompanied by an adult. These are distributed among the 16 different centers available to the organization. On the one hand, the so-called Temporary Emergency Accommodation Units or Immediate Care centers, and, on the other, the Basic Residential Care centers. Most of them come from Morocco, although there are also children from Guinea, Senegal, Mali and Ivory Coast.

Irregular immigration has more than doubled so far this year compared to the figures of 2017, which were alarming then. Spain is already the main access route to Europe, surpassing Italy. Up to the 15th of July, the irregular immigrants who had entered this year in Spain, mostly by sea and on the coast of Andalusia, already numbered 15,686, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior —the European agency Frontex raises this to 18,016 for the same period—, 114% more than in 2017, when the figure had already increased by 170%.

Many of these immigrants are unaccompanied foreign minors. In the first seven months of 2018, some 3,200 unaccompanied foreign minors came to Andalusia through its shores, a thousand of them in July alone, compared to 2,855 in all of last year, according to data from the Andalusian Government.

This year, the SAMU Foundation, by order of the Board, has opened, as of yet, 11 new resources aimed at this group. Two of them are Basic Residential Care centers, and the rest are Immediate Care centers.

The last two emergency temporary shelter resources were opened in August in Guillena (Seville) and Jimena (Cádiz). In addition to these, there are two more in the province of Cádiz open this year and two more in 2017, two in the province of Almeria, and three in that of Granada, all of them active from this year.

In terms of Basic Residential Care resources, which allow minors to remain at the center until children reach legal adulthood, SAMU has three resources in Seville, Granada and Cadiz. The last of them was set up in El Bosque, in the province of Cádiz, at the end of May. It was born from a need of the General Direction of Childhood and Families of the Board to address the needs of minors who arrived in Spain during the year 2017 and were still being cared for in Immediate Care centers. There are 13 people who work here, among them psychologists, social workers, educators, teachers, and edudational technical assistants.

“The key objective of the Basic Residential Care centers is to insert these children into society. Our role is one of social and professional guidance that starts with the task of documenting the minors, placing them in educational centers or in different courses and working with them towards their future emancipation,” indicates Nicolas Torres, director of SAMU minors.

All these resources add up to two more instruments in Motril (Granada), a Center of Social/ Professional Orientation, opened in 2013, and a floor for children who have been under the guardianship of SAMU and who have already reached legal age.