COVID-19 success stories from the field: Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Morocco

The following is the second in a 3-part series about how NMOs in the Middle East region have responded to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic while simultaneously pushing ahead their advocacy efforts to ensure better access to care and treatment for their local bleeding disorders communities. Their approaches reflect the unique realities of each country, in terms of capacity, public health policy and health infrastructure. The WFH applauds their resourcefulness and dedication.

Despite the many challenges the general population in Iran faces due to COVID-19, the local bleeding disorders community has been able to manage the situation well thanks to the support of the Iranian Hemophilia Society (IHS). Ali Tabatabaey, MD, IHS’s international relations manager, said, “While some of our community members have sadly lost family members to COVID-19, our people with hemophilia (PWH) received excellent medical care and their health improvement has been encouraging.” The IHS has relied on the solid laboratory infrastructure and staff—trained through past collaboration with WFH —at the Tehran hemophilia treatment centre (HTC) to set up and run COVID-19 testing. Tabatabaey said, “For now, we are focussed on securing our needs for additional testing kits to detect early cases and further protect the bleeding disorders community,” however he added, “we are looking forward to going back to the day—pre-sanctions and pre-COVID 19—when we are able to host WFH and other international organizations and hold joint scientific events in Tehran and further improve hemophilia care.”

The Hemophilia Foundation-Pakistan (HFP) recognized early on the need to focus on protecting its staff in order to continue to serve the local bleeding disorders community. Because of its geographical location bordering Iran and China—both early COVID-19 pandemic centres—the NMO took early steps to protect patients. Masood Fareed Malik, President of the HFP, mobilised early on to secure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the NMO’s chapters and Hemophilia Treatment Centres (HTCs) to ensure service continuity. While he was quick to protect others, Mr Malik and his family later contracted and recovered from COVID-19 and sadly lost one family member.

The HFP chapter in Rawalpindi took the initiative of developing management guidelines suitable for Pakistan’s context, based on the “Specific Risks of COVID-19 to the Bleeding Disorders Community” document created by the WFH. The HFP endorsed the Rawalpindi initiative and the local management guidelines were adopted across Pakistan’s HTC network.

In Afghanistan, Enayatullah Hashemi, MD, Director of the Afghanistan Blood Bank—which recently assumed responsibility for hemophilia care—said that despite the difficult country context, he and his colleagues were continuing to treat patients. With support from the ministry of health, the WFH and through a donation from a supplier of reagents, Hashemi is working to improve hemophilia care in Afghanistan. He is focussing on building capacity for accurate diagnosis of more patients and on creating a Medical Advisory Board (MAB) that would help the local HTC and the NMO step up their efforts in the community in these difficult times, and beyond.  He said: “I am very grateful for the WFH for all the support they are providing in terms of advice and training and for facilitating the donation of reagents.”

The Association Marocaine des Hémophiles (AMH) took an innovative approach to educating its community and  participating in World Hemophilia Day in Morocco this year, organizing the celebration via WhatsApp. This became an opportunity to emphasize the importance of home confinement at the time of COVID-19, and provide vital information about access to treatment during the crisis. WFH World Hemophilia Day and COVID-19 resources were leveraged during the campaign to help respond, as much as possible, to the questions and concerns raised by AMH members.

To read the first story in this series, “COVID-19 success stories from the field: Lebanon, Tunisia and Sudan”, please click here.