“We Don’t See an End in Sight” – COVID-19 in Bolivia
Potosi, Bolivia is one of the highest cities in the world. At an elevation of nearly 14,000 feet, it’s located in the southern highlands of the Bolivian Andes. The country is the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere, behind only Haiti. Two-thirds of the population live below the World Bank poverty benchmark of $2.00 per day, and malnutrition is common in the region.
MedSend medical missionary and Nurse Caitlin Lawrence has served in this small community since 2016. She describes the city as extremely economically poor with a challenging infrastructure. “It’s so difficult,” she says. “There are so few resources.”
PPE Shortages and Getting Creative
Despite the remoteness of the city, the first COVID-19 cases appeared in early March. Caitlin’s team knew that they would need to work quickly to prepare. “We tried when we saw that things were about to get real bad to see what we could find and try to jump ahead of it,” Caitlin says. The clinic that she worked at had a very small stock of PPE, and the likelihood of receiving more anytime soon was low.
“We did have to get a little creative,” she admits. The team was thankful for video seminars prepared by other medical professionals that gave them some direction in making their own PPE. They made their own gowns and have been able to use the laundry facilities at the clinic to wash them and reuse repeatedly. “There was quite a while where gloves and masks were not available at all,” Caitlin says. “It’s still a little hard to find supplies.”
“We’re Doing What We Can”
The healthcare system in the country is in the midst of reform, and many international organizations have been involved in funding and relief efforts. Even before COVID-19 arrived, Potosi did not have adequate healthcare resources for its population. After the virus cases started to rise, more clinics closed. Caitlin’s clinic is one of the few that has remained open.
The additional caseload has been taxing on the small clinic. “Not only do we have an extremely high number of patients, we’ve been in this since March, and we don’t see an end in sight yet.” says Caitlin. “We have one of the highest death rates in the entire world with COVID. And, it’s even more than just what COVID has caused. The situation is a completely collapsed national healthcare system.”
Even with the additional challenges of more patients than ever, Caitlin’s clinic has worked tirelessly to show God’s love and compassion to those in need.
Caitlin told us about a time when a woman came to the clinic with acute heart failure and an oxygen saturation of 51%. They took her in and immediately began to treat her. The woman did not have COVID, but she did pass away several days later. “What was hard is that we had no other resources. There was no other hospital that would take her. They’re completely collapsed. There were no rooms, there was no staff, there was no availability of anything. So we’re doing what we can with what we have,” Caitlin says.
“It Never Crossed My Mind to Leave”
2020 has been a difficult year on the mission field. Due to border closures and travel advisories, many missionaries who were in the US on furlough have been unable to make it back into their countries of service. Some have been advised, based on their location and safety concerns, to vacate their posts for a time. Still others have made the difficult decision to either suspend or end their time in the field.
We asked Caitlin why she stays.
“I can honestly say it never crossed my mind to leave. I came here knowing that there’s risk involved, but also knowing that the Lord has given me the talents and the training as a medical professional to be able to use those to help physically, but also to be a witness spiritually,” she explains.
“For me, it wasn’t an issue or a question. It was more of a case of, ‘OK Lord, this isn’t a surprise to you, although it might be to me.’ And He’s put me here for such a time as this,” she says.
“We’re still in this,” she stresses. “It’s a difficult situation to be in – to know what you want to do and to just not be able to do that or provide that.” Caitlin says that she prays for wisdom and perseverance and would appreciate prayers in those areas on her behalf.
A Heartfelt Thank You
Caitlin speaks about her role as a missionary with great passion and sense of purpose. One could mistakenly assume that the decision to dedicate her life to medical missions was a natural and easy one. Caitlin readily admits that she resisted the call at first.
While on a short term mission trip in 2013, Caitlin felt the Lord impressing long term missions on her heart. Emphatically, she says she told God “Absolutely not!” The tug did not let up, however, and Caitlin says she used every excuse possible to avoid the call. Finally, she agreed to another short term mission trip as she felt her heart softening. On that trip, she says she surrendered to the call.
Now, Caitlin is right where she believes she is supposed to be. She admits that her nursing school loans were another obstacle to saying “yes” to God, and she wants to thank MedSend donors for helping to remove that barrier for her. “I can’t thank all of you enough for your prayers and your partnership,” she says. “I wouldn’t be able to be here without it.”
Healthcare remains the only form of access as a Christian witness in many countries.
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