The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Slovakia is helping hospitals and municipalities ramp up COVID-19 testing capacity to deal with the surge in coronavirus cases that began in the fall of 2020, according to a database by the Slovak government.
In September, ADRA built additional shelters and waiting areas at external COVID-19 testing centers at three hospitals in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital. ADRA had coordinated the construction of these testing centers at the beginning of the pandemic.
At the end of October, the government of Slovakia launched a massive campaign to test a majority of the country’s population for COVID-19 in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus without imposing a national lockdown. ADRA volunteers spent an entire day setting up shelter tents at two temporary testing sites in Bratislava. ADRA also provided germicidal lamps, which use ultraviolet radiation to destroy viruses and bacteria, to assist with disinfection at 17 testing sites.
“The logistical challenges of universal testing are enormous,” Stanislav Bielik, country director for ADRA in Slovakia, said. “ADRA used its experience in crisis intervention to equip municipalities and hospitals to handle the dramatic increase in testing while minimizing the risks of infection. We created an environment that would protect the safety of health-care workers and the citizens being tested.”
Building Slovakia’s First Outdoor COVID-19 Testing Center
ADRA, the global humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, has played a pivotal role in establishing COVID-19 testing centers in Slovakia since the earliest days of the pandemic. In March 2020, University Hospital Bratislava (UNB) invited ADRA to oversee the construction of a testing facility outside its infectious disease clinic.
“An outdoor site was necessary to minimize COVID-19 exposure within the hospital itself,” Bielik said. “Health-care systems in our region are underfunded and understaffed, and at the beginning of the pandemic, workers lacked adequate protective gear, including face masks. We needed to develop conditions where the medical staff would not come in direct contact with the patients during the sample-taking process at all.”
Using logistics skills gained from directing humanitarian projects abroad, ADRA staff coordinated the construction of the external testing center with assistance from hospital staff and personnel from the army, police, and fire departments. ADRA brought in containers as offices for registering patients and collecting samples, set up tents as waiting rooms and shelters, and installed plexiglass barriers to separate medical workers from incoming patients. Portable toilets, fencing around the area, toxic waste containers, and signage completed the facility. The first outdoor testing center was ready for service in just 48 hours.
Within a few days, it became clear that tents did not provide adequate shelter during inclement weather. ADRA hired a group of self-employed carpenters to construct wooden shelters and waiting areas at the testing site. This team of workers soon earned the nickname “Carpenters Without Borders” for their tireless efforts in difficult and risky circumstances. Construction had to be completed during the hours the testing center was closed.
After completing this project, ADRA constructed similar testing centers at two more major hospitals in Bratislava. ADRA also produced an instructional video about building the external testing centers that was sent out to other hospitals in Slovakia and throughout ADRA’s European network. The ADRA/UNB testing center became one of the busiest in the country, taking 80 to 150 samples per day during the first six months of the pandemic.
An additional problem for the hospitals was preventing the transmission of COVID-19 within the hospital. ADRA devised a quick solution to separate infectious zones by raising lightweight partitions made of clear polycarbonate in the corridors of the hospital.
ADRA workers designed and installed barriers in more than 20 departments in three hospitals. The installation had to be carried out during full hospital operations in an infectious environment. Workers wore masks and coveralls to protect themselves during construction.
“This project contributed to preventing the spread of the virus among health-care professionals and patients during the first wave of COVID-19,” Bielik said.
ADRA also worked during the pandemic to support homes for the elderly and people with special needs. ADRA reached out to 130 retirement homes and identified a serious mismatch between their financial capacities and the hygiene and protection requirements put in place during the pandemic.
“These institutions are under unprecedented pressure when it comes to protecting their employees and residents, who are the most vulnerable ones in the current crisis,” Bielik said. “The needs were especially acute at small, remote facilities, which suffer from a lack of financial resources due to limited institutional support.”
After partnering with individual and corporate donors, ADRA began distributing hygiene supplies, personal protection products, and germicidal lamps at retirement homes across Slovakia. When a pharmaceutical company donated 15,000 packages of vitamins to boost the immune systems of elderly people, ADRA mobilized volunteers in all eight regions of Slovakia to help prepare and distribute the vitamins.
Approximately 25 volunteers, mostly young people, gathered at the Seventh-day Adventist church in Bratislava during three weekends in May to pack the vitamins into gift bags. Adventist volunteers across the country delivered the packages to retirement homes that care for the vulnerable elderly. In addition, Adventist pastors delivered vitamin packets to elderly church members to support their immune health. ADRA’s efforts reached 130 retirement homes, benefitting 8,000 older persons altogether.
“Although our churches were closed for worship during this time, our church members were eager to minister to the needs of the community,” Bielik said. “We hope that these emergency activities will strengthen our cooperation with church member volunteers, and we plan to involve them in our future projects, especially in helping the elderly in Slovakia.”
The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is still ravaging Slovakia, with the number of new COVID-19 infections much higher than it was during the spring or summer. ADRA remains vigilant in its efforts to combat the virus.
“ADRA continues to look for ways to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 in Slovakia by helping the most vulnerable,” Bielik said. “The second wave of the pandemic that we are now experiencing shows the necessity of continuing our activities.”
ADRA is responding to the coronavirus crisis around the world, assisting approximately 2.7 million families in more than 70 countries. ADRA’s emergency relief activities include distributing food, hygiene products, and cash vouchers to people in need. It is also training frontline workers and providing medical supplies to hospitals serving vulnerable communities.