Volunteers assisting health authorities during COVID-19 pandemic

A commuter wears a protective face mask while waiting at a bus terminus in Valletta
A commuter wearing a protective face mask waits at a bus terminus, after Malta imposed a 14-day quarantine on all arrivals on the island in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus, in Valletta, Malta March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Several volunteers are working behind the scenes complementing the work being carried out by the health authorities since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Malta. These nameless volunteers coming from all walks of life responded to a call which was issued by the Malta Health Network which promotes health-related interests of patients and the wider community, SOS Malta and the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector.

Newsbook.com.mt reached out to the chairperson of the Malta Health Network Gertrude Buttigieg who explained the role of the volunteers in the epidemic and how they are assisting the health authorities during this public health emergency.

Buttigieg explained that the Malta Health Network had a two-fold role in the current situation – one which is in line with their mission statement and organising volunteers to complement the work by the health authorities. The Malta Health Network has 40 member organisations which mostly represent the interests of different patient groups.

“We’ve been organising our volunteers to complement the work being carried out by the health authorities. It is impossible to pay directly for all the services we’re receiving. However, people have come forward and are helping,” Buttigieg remarked.

But what are the volunteers doing? Newsbook.com.mt asked. Buttigieg pointed out that during the daily briefing delivered by Superintendent of Public Health Professor Charmaine Gauci would speak about swabbing patients or carrying out contact tracing procedures. The volunteers who have signed up assist the health authorities from an administrative point of view such as the setting of appointments for a swab test, and data input, all under the direction of the team led by Prof. Gauci.

The volunteers were helping out in taking note on who arrived in Malta after mandatory quarantine was imposed on all inbound passengers.

“There was a lot of work going on behind the scenes which was essential to our current situation,” Buttigieg noted.

False sense of nationalism

More than 100,000 individuals are deemed to vulnerable and have been asked to remain home apart from those who are aged over 65. Buttigieg remarked that the various measures being put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus within the community, would be the daily reality for many of these vulnerable individuals.

Many patients with chronic illnesses have lived with what we are going through these past three weeks for all their lives, Buttigieg highlighted.

“It is important that once the COVID-19 pandemic is over to remember that what we’ve experienced over a couple of weeks, is someone else’s reality even afterwards,” she added.

Speaking about stigma, Buttigieg noted that there was a lot of stigma in connection to mental health illnesses and other illnesses which are hidden.

“The coronavirus also is causing a new type of stigma. People who have tested positive have been stigmatized. While we’ve also seen Asians being stigmatized,” she noted.

She recalled a phone call she received prior to the outbreak in Malta when several called her up to tell her that where they lived, there were Chinese living too. The people had told her that it was better if these Asian families were evicted.

“What do you mean evicted?” Buttigieg asked, noting that this coronavirus break brought with it a sense of false nationalism, “us and the other”.

“It’s important to understand that this disease does not differentiate between individuals. We know that royals and politicians have contracted the virus. It is important to be responsible for our actions.”

How can you volunteer?

For one to sign up to become a volunteer with the Malta Health Network and assist the health authorities, one does not need to be a person trained in the medical field. Buttigieg noted that many people from all walks of life have signed up including educators, students, people who are on unpaid leave and even those who have been fired. Volunteers are not only Maltese with various foreigners assisting the health authorities. Foreigner volunteers are assisting in translation.

“There is a lot to be done.” Buttigieg stated.

One can sign up as a volunteer either by contacting the organisation via their website or by sending an email on info@maltahealthnetwork.org. Alternatively one can register through this website. Anyone interested is being asked to provide a contact number and a brief description on oneself.

Buttigieg added that the network had issued a call for volunteers to help with the buying and delivering of groceries to vulnerable individuals. She explained that they were still accepting volunteers. Those who are interested can get in touch. The network will them put them in touch with a vulnerable person who needs assistance.

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