South Korean soldiers in protective gear walk through the Gangnam district in Seoul, South Korea on March 6, 2020. South Korean soldiers in protective gear walk through the Gangnam district in Seoul, South Korea on March 6, 2020. South Korean soldiers in protective gear walk through the Gangnam district in Seoul, South Korea on March 6, 2020. The South Korean government has raised the coronavirus alert to the "highest level" as confirmed case numbers continue to rise across the country. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

IsraAid launches program to help coronavirus first responders cope

The humanitarian aid agency is responding to concerns about the psychosocial effects of the outbreak on health care workers.

On the front lines of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, first responders are asked to put themselves in harm's way and expose themselves to a life-threatening illness on a daily basis. The stress, exhaustion and isolation that comes with such work is the focus of a new program by IsraAid, the international humanitarian aid agency, to address the psychosocial needs of medical and mental health workers in the field.

The Israel-based organization, which has responded to disasters and health crises in 52 countries since 2001, announced today that it's expanding its initial response to COVID-19 in China and around the world. In the coming weeks, the non-governmental organization will launch a series of stress management webinars for medical first responders and mental health workers in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai. The five-part webinar series will launch with an initial group of 30 mental health workers and then will be rolled out to further groups as needed.

IsraAid volunteers prepare boxes of medical supplies that are being shipped to China. IsraAid volunteers prepare boxes of medical supplies that are being shipped to China. (Photo: Courtesy IsraAid)

“The rapid spread of coronavirus in China has led to a sense of uncertainty and fear amongst healthcare workers and wider communities alike. From conversations with leading professionals at the Zhuhai center for public disease control, we understand that healthcare workers exposed to the virus are feeling increased stress, helplessness and fatigue," said Dr. Debra Kalmanowitz, IsraAID’s psychosocial support specialist working on the organization’s coronavirus response. "IsraAID webinars are structured to support mental health workers by providing a framework for reducing stress as well as sharing specialized information on stress, trauma, coping and resilience at this time.”

The webinars’ content will focus on personal resilience and developing positive coping mechanisms, and they will serve as a forum for each group to consult on psychosocial issues specific to the COVID-19 outbreak.

IsraAID is also monitoring the situation in South Korea, which has seen the second highest number of cases worldwide after China, with the number of infected people rising sharply to 6,593 in recent weeks. The organization is currently planning to respond in the city of Daegu, which is by far the hardest-hit in the country.

IsraAid workers respond to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone in 2014. IsraAid workers respond to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone in 2014. (Photo: Courtesy of IsraAid)

IsraAID has worked in South Korea in the past, providing psychosocial support trainings for organizations working with North Korean defectors and supporting mental health professionals working with families of the victims of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster.

Last month, IsraAID and its partners sent two shipments of medical supplies – including face masks, protective suits, and gloves – to Chinese hospitals experiencing shortages of vital protective gear.

Boxes of emergency medical supplies were shipped to China last week to help health care workers there treat coronavirus patients. Boxes of emergency medical supplies were shipped to China last week to help health care workers there treat coronavirus patients. (Photo: Courtesy of IsraAid)

The agency has extensive experience responding to disease outbreaks. During the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, IsraAID provided stress management workshops to health workers and burial teams responding. The group also assisted survivors of the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent exposure to radiation amid the meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011.

“We are all very concerned about the spread of Coronavirus, and we are grateful for all the courageous work done by Chinese medical teams," IsraAid's CEO, Yotam Polizer, said. "It’s important for us to do our part by sending relief supplies and sharing our expertise in the field of stress management and trauma reduction.”

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IsraAid launches program to help coronavirus first responders cope
On the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, first responders put themselves in harm's way, but who's looking out for them? IsraAid. Here's how.