Posted on April 20, 2020

Italy was one of the first European countries to feel the full effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which struck the country’s sophisticated and well-developed healthcare system quickly and emphatically.

And Rossella Miccio, President of EMERGENCY NGO, whose teams are working on the frontline of helping communities in northern Italy who have been hardest hit by the virus – and who was one of the expert speakers in a special online edition of Qatar Foundation’s Education City Speaker Series, in collaboration with the World Innovation Summit for Health – says this emphasizes how the pandemic does not discriminate. Based in Lombardy, the epicenter of the crisis in Italy, EMERGENCY NGO was called into action to aid the country’s fight against the coronavirus. “The crisis was really a surprise for Italy, and an initial underestimation led to a lot of setbacks that continue to have a negative impact on the country’s healthcare system,” she said.

Miccio explained the economic consequences of the outbreak have been particularly harmful to the most vulnerable members of society. To help combat this, EMERGENCY NGO set up a system in early March to deliver necessities like food and medicine to the elderly and the at-risk population in the city of Milan. In addition to running this program through a network of nearly 300 volunteers, it also created a new project to support reception centers and shelters taking care of migrants, refugees, unaccompanied minors, and the homeless.

“Respecting rules and guidelines becomes difficult, posing a threat to the entire city’s health, particularly when it comes to such vulnerable groups,” said Miccio. “You’re asked to stay at home, but what if you don’t have a home? You need to call a doctor if you experience symptoms, but what if you don’t have a doctor? To help rectify this, we worked with the municipality in Milan to survey shelters and reception centers that help approximately 3,000 people. And to keep up with the daily rise in cases, EMERGENCY NGO also supported regional healthcare authorities to develop a new healthcare facility in the city of Bergamo.”

Italy continues to face shortages, whether regarding protective gear for healthcare workers, intensive care facilities, or beds. “If an advanced health system like the Italian one has been so heavily impacted by this outbreak, then we might have to completely rethink our healthcare priorities,” said Miccio. “Ensuring universal access to healthcare is one of the major lessons this outbreak is teaching us.” She also expressed concerns over how the virus may affect countries with less developed, more fragile healthcare systems. “Not only do we need to ensure we do whatever we can to contain this in our own countries, we also need to ensure worldwide solidarity worldwide in order to fight the virus together,” she said. “We cannot leave anyone behind. The virus doesn’t discriminate, and neither can we.

“This is a time when people from different walks of life must come together, whether they are scientists, politicians, or NGOs, to share their knowledge and experience and build a new perspective for us all. Platforms like the Education City Speaker Series are welcome and much needed at a time like this.”