Providing Critical COVID-19 Response, HP+ Honduras Closes with Notable Achievements
Like every aspect of work and life in so much of the world, the aim of the Health Policy Plus (HP+) project in Honduras was marked by COVID-19. The pandemic was the impetus for the project to set up operations for immediate action to help the country combat the pandemic. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), HP+ and local partners began to equip the Honduran health system with standards and protocols for safe and effective facility- and home-based care for COVID-19 patients, diagnostic tests for COVID-19, and mechanical ventilators donated by the U.S. Government. The project also strengthened hospital infection prevention and control programs and assisted with the rollout of a vaccination program for the populace. On July 14, the project and its supporters gathered in Tegucigalpa to mark the end of this phase of work as the HP+ project closes.
Dr. Liziem Valladares, country director for HP+ in Honduras, opened the event and welcomed Michelle Dworkin, USAID acting deputy mission director and Dr. Jose Manuel Matheu, head of the Honduran Ministry of Health, known as SESAL. They were joined by other ministry representatives with about 30 people in attendance due to gathering restrictions, plus 87 more watching the livestream.
The event included videotaped testimonials from project beneficiaries and a presentation of project results. A panel discussion among experts on the challenges and sustainability of the activities supported by HP+ was moderated by Dr. Alicia Cerrato, deputy director of HP+ in Honduras, joined by the head of the National Virology Laboratory, a representative of the Honduran Association of Intensive Care, the director of the secondary level of hospital care from SESAL, and the director of the Professional Nursing Association of Honduras.
The health minister, Dr. Matheu, noted his personal experience with the pandemic caring for his wife, who had been in intensive care, and the U.S. government’s support in the country. “The U.S. government has proved to be an ally, donating more than 5.2 million vaccines to date… They supported the cold chain and also built a microbiology lab network that has allowed the government to face the pandemic and continue to do so,” he said.
Dworkin also spoke of the personal costs of the pandemic in confinement away from her family. “We are all waiting for the day when the end of the COVID-19 pandemic can be declared,” she said. Turning to the accomplishments, she remarked: “At USAID, we have worked through the HP+ project and other partners to equip the Honduran health system. We thank the Ministry of Health, the Honduran Association of Intensive Care, the College of Professional Nurses, and the Medical College, who, among others, have been key in the response to COVID-19. These men and women have been the true heroes of the pandemic.”
Speakers noted significant accomplishments made or supported by HP+, including:
- 25 policy actions, 5,538 healthcare workers trained, 4,567 visit to HP+’s YouTube training, and 60 workshops through the HP+ implementation period
- New labs now processing dengue and flu samples in addition to COVID-19, PCR testing within 72 hours, and an inventory management system installed by HP+
- Training nonspecialized staff in the use of mechanical ventilators, overcoming challenges such as poor internet connection and electricity shortages
- Reorganized workflows, job aid videos that support training, dissemination of guidelines and protocols, and a first-time strategy of healthcare-acquired infections in Honduras, with indicators for monitoring to guarantee sustainability
- A "COVID-19 Home-Based Care Guide," now in a second version, which is having national impact and guiding providers on how to prepare and deal with future emergencies and new diseases
- Strengthened capacity for the Health Surveillance Unit—creating for the first time a multidisciplinary unit with a mathematical statistician and a specialist in hospital management and public health
Speaking about the strengthened capacity of the Health Surveillance Unit, Dr. Homer Mejía, national coordinator of communicable diseases at SESAL noted: “And with this, we were able to form a multidisciplinary team that allowed us to do different types of analysis, to make estimates, in terms of being able to predict how many people were going to get sick from COVID-19 or how many were going to die. And this allowed us as the Surveillance Unit to put in place prevention and control to reduce the medical burden of disease attributable to COVID-19.”
Meredith Fox, head of USAID’s Education Office in Honduras and the mission liaison for HP+, said the work done by HP+ is not finished and that USAID will remain. “Health Policy Plus completes its activities after fulfilling its objective of supporting the Ministry of Health during the most critical moments of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “This support has helped save thousands of lives and has strengthened the capacities of more than 5,000 health professionals to face new challenges…[and] set in motion systems that strengthened the entire health system in Honduras.”
USAID is committed, she said, to a long road ahead in Honduras to strengthen local institutions and organizations, praising SESAL and especially front-line doctors and nurses for their collaboration and sacrifice to save lives during the pandemic. “We hope that everyone will join us to continue what we have built with the Health Policy Plus project. The work is not finished. Count on our support.”