The Red Cross medical team check the health condition at residents in their rooms at the Koyoen disability welfare facility. Photo: Atsushi Shibuya / JRCS
COVID-19 has affected all parts of society, but it poses a particularly significant threat to the elderly and people with underlying conditions in terms of challenges in accessing the services they need and following general prevention measures, as well as a much greater risk of developing more serious symptoms if they catch the virus.
People with a disability are among those disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The outbreak is disrupting the ongoing health services and day-to-day support they rely on, and many are also battling underlying health conditions including chronic conditions and a weakened immune system, making the virus even more dangerous for them.
Prevention is also a concern, with physical distancing more difficult if not impossible for people with disabilities who rely on the support and assistance of family members, carers and support workers.
“Koyoen” disability welfare facility in Monbetsu-gun, Japan, had to confront these challenges when a resident returning from another health care facility tested positive to the virus.
“The virus started to spread through the facility, with a full-time nurse among the first five positive tests. With staff going into isolation, those remaining had to carry a heavier workload as well as dealing with the anxiety in the absence of the nurse,” explains Katsuya Kudo, the director of Koyoen.
When the director of the Kitami Red Cross Hospital, Dr Joji Arakawa, heard about this news, he decided to form a medical team in cooperation with three Red Cross hospitals in the area to support the staff of Koyoen.
Red Cross nurses work in shifts to support Koyoen staff.
The team of doctors, nurses and pharmacists were quickly at the centre, conducting tests – sometimes a difficult task when working with people with a disability – and supporting efforts to contain the virus.
Dr Arakawa explains that hospitalisation can place a lot of stress on people with disabilities, making their condition worse. Therefore, it was necessary for residents to stay at Koyoen as much as possible, even with COVID-19 situation.
“Staff in Koyoen have a good knowledge of infection and appropriate countermeasure. Since they have a trusting relationship with the residents, I believe this containment measures will work well.”
The teams stayed in turns and checked health condition of residents in order to support the staff from the medical point of view.
“Red Cross has a long history of providing health care and supporting those at risk in our communities; it’s the core of who we are and what we do,” said Gwendolyn Pang, Deputy Regional Director of IFRC in Asia Pacific.
“The Japanese Red Cross health teams have continued this proud history, providing their support and expertise at Koyoen welfare facility.”