An estimated one in 10 people who contracted COVID-19 needed some form of additional help from NGOs operating behind the scenes.

Their problems ranged from access to food and medicine, handling children with special needs and challenging behaviour, even assistance with pets and farm animals, to loneliness and the “simple need for more attention”, said Tanya Melillo, who leads the Public Health Response Team.

Her team is responsible for gathering contacts of positive cases and looking for the source, but they found themselves facing other problems caused by the pandemic and stepped in help.

Melillo’s case management morphed into a more humanitarian role as the team reached out to patients with the collaboration of NGOs.

She expressed gratitude towards the Foodbank Lifeline Foundation and SOS Malta, who also helped them check in on the elderly and deliver food and medicines.

Among the stories of hardship that the pandemic brought about, Melillo mentioned a woman who had to go to hospital and leave her elderly mum alone at home.

“No other family members could step in and we were worried about the mother, so we called her morning and evening to check on her, until one day, she did not reply all day…

“We called the police, who had to break down the door and found her on the floor in pain, unable to move,” Melillo recalled, adding that the woman was hospitalised too.  

Quarantine – and the pandemic in general – had an impact on single parents, for example, who were unable to work and ended up without money to buy food, Melillo said.

She is dealing with a pregnant mother of two, who found herself in the same predicament.

From her experience over the past year, Melillo maintains that other forms of suffering at times caused even more pain than the virus itself.

When you are in contact with so many suffering people on a daily basis, you either become immune or you get involved

While about 75 per cent of those who fell ill and stayed home were able to cope with their physical ailments, many of them could not handle the psychological and economic repercussions, she and her team learnt.

“COVID-19 destroyed some people psychologically, with families just unable to stay together in a couple of rooms for so long,” Melillo said, listing, among the ‘side effects’ of the pandemic, foreigners who were afraid of being kicked out of their homes because they could not pay the rent.

“It was hard for a large percentage of cases. Our team was their first point of contact, so it was a huge responsibility, and it was important that we helped as much as we could.

“When you are in contact with so many suffering people on a daily basis, you either become immune or you get involved,” said Melillo, who is the head of the Infectious Disease Prevention and Control Unit.

Not about to sit on the sidelines, “we wanted to ease even just a fraction of the suffering”, she said. This motivated the team to keep on working hard.

“With numbers now on the decline, we look forward to having zero cases and over 70 per cent of the population vaccinated with two doses,” Melillo said as her workload fills up with all that has been put on hold since the pandemic broke out.

“Once a large percentage of the population is immunised, how we tackle quarantine and other measures can start being transitioned too,” she said, referring to lessons learnt.

“The connections we have built with other NGOs are here to stay and they will continue helping us as they have already helped hundreds of cases.” 

The next step is, in fact, working with SOS Malta and others to reach out to migrants for vaccination.

SOS Malta has been helping the case-management team check on the needs of migrants, who were infected or just in quarantine, especially due to language barriers.

“These NGOs are not seen, but they are the silent helpers; volunteers who made a difference to many during COVID-19 and deserve recognition for their efforts to help others,” Melillo said.

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