TEXT: CRISTINA BISBAL IMAGES: COURTESY OF FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE

As soon as we fully comprehended the scale of the healthcare issues we were facing, we launched various initiatives in 27 countries to combat the greatest pandemic our society has ever known, setting aside a total of 35 million euros to undertake this mammoth task. Many of them have already finished, but others are still in full flow, given that the fight goes on.

What, at the start of the year, was supposed to be a period of economic recovery and relative political stability, in March turned out to be one of the most difficult periods in our recent history. As a result, we set aside our scheduled exhibitions and all our usual activities in order to focus on combating COVID-19, this terrible disease that has changed our lives overnight and taken the lives of thousands of people across the world. With the quantity and variety of initiatives we launched from the very start of the pandemic, we aimed to protect ourselves from the virus, help the disadvantaged, and come out of this crisis as soon as possible. And, yes indeed, we can be hopeful.

To understand the sheer size of the projects we are talking about here, a few numbers suffice: 5 million euros for research; 10 million to purchase healthcare material and protective equipment; and 20 million for social welfare activities targeting the most vulnerable in society. But the figures are just the start. Because behind them are human beings. Those to whom we dedicated all our resources. For example, the elderly and patients in the nursing homes and hospitals where they were admitted; or self-employed workers who have benefited from the advice and support placed at their disposal. Because there are a great many sectors which have been – and are being – affected, and which need all the help and means we can possibly offer them.

“The important thing now is to act.” The words of Antonio Huertas, president of Fundación MAPFRE, leave no room for doubt. Nor does the tradition of an institution that has spent 45 years “striving to make the world a better place, committed to enhancing people’s quality of life and support those who need it most.”

The Open Ventilator respirators in Spain

Research: seeking a solution

Altogether, there are 12 principal actions which focus on three basic lines of action. The first is supporting the team of researchers at the CSIC (Spanish Scientific Research Council) in their quest to gain further knowledge of the disease and obtain a vaccine.

To this end we donated five million euros which the CSIC may freely use in order to conduct a comprehensive study of this pandemic and acquire in-depth knowledge of the virus and its transmission mechanisms. This can not only lead to a vaccine, but also provide a scientific basis for how to better protect the population from future pandemics. “We are very proud to contribute to this research headed up by the CSIC and we trust that more institutions will sign up to this endeavor to achieve a vaccine that is so essential for the world’s population,” Antonio Huertas declared.

But the situation also called for immediate solutions, given the shortage of materials. For this reason, 100,000 euros was pumped into developing and manufacturing The Open Ventilator, a respirator designed by a team of Spanish researchers, thanks to support from the King Juan Carlos University and Celera. It features low production costs, which makes it a good alternative when there is a lack of standard respirators, for example in Latin American countries where we are actively present. There was also a pressing need for personal protective equipment (PPE) so that frontline healthcare workers could keep themselves absolutely safe. With this in mind, 30,000 euros was donated to the Francisco de Vitoria University. With the help of the E-Rescue company, its volunteers took charge of its manufacture.

After many years dedicated to national and international aid, we have the experience and capacity needed to implement emergency plans swiftly and efficiently in various countries around the world

Emergency plans for 27 countries

After years dedicated to national and international aid, we have the experience and capacity needed to implement emergency plans swiftly and efficiently in various countries around the world. And that is exactly what we did when it became apparent that the pandemic was growing faster than the medical material needed; and that the crisis had caught health services in most countries off guard. So it was decided to donate a total of 20 million euros in 27 countries to purchase medical, protection and respiratory equipment, to start up emergency medical units and field hospitals, and conduct PCR diagnostic confirmation tests in order to detect COVID-19. And this was all done in coordination with the authorities of each country and with the support of a significant volunteer network, as well as the logistics we possess in many countries where we are present.

Peru, Brazil and the Dominican Republic are three of the countries that have benefited from such aid. But also Spain, where medical supplies have been distributed to many nursing homes, hospitals and healthcare social enterprises. Altogether, the material distributed included 50 respirators, 100,000 FFP2 masks, 525,000 surgical masks, 3,000 protective goggles, 130,000 disposable gowns and 750,000 nitrile gloves. In addition, Spain’s National Police were provided with two portable disinfection units worth 15,000 euros each. The high cost of these units is because they are based on state-of-the-art technology designed by the University of Alcalá de Henares, which allows for much more effective, comprehensive disinfection than conventional equipment.

IMG aid arrives in Venezuela

Tackling the economic crisis

For numerous small businesses and self-employed workers, the stoppage caused by lockdown is leading to an unprecedented crisis which will prove hard to overcome. To support job creation, the Accedemos program finances the hiring of both fulltime and part-time workers for nine months. Nor did we wish to forget those schoolchildren who, unable to attend classes, have been left without their main daily meal. Because not only are they losing out on learning, but also health. To alleviate this terrible situation, a micro-aid program was developed to enable them to purchase basic necessities, such as food and cleaning and personal hygiene products.

Our aim has been to work hard (teleworking in the vast majority of cases, so as to guarantee safety), striving to ensure that hope can reach every corner of the countries where we are present. Thanks to all these efforts, in the words of Antonio Huertas, we can say that “we are confident we will overcome this terrible situation and that we will do so with that which best defines us, solidarity. And let’s do it being realistic, perfectly aware of what we are dealing with, so that, in the shortest possible time, we can achieve what appears impossible as of today.”

Help with socially-distant mourning

Losing a loved one during the toughest times of this pandemic was a terrible experience. The sadness of the loss is compounded by the impossibility of bidding farewell, which can be the start of incomplete grief. To alleviate the pain of these people, we implemented a psychological aid plan for all those who have lost a family member to COVID-19. In collaboration with Grupo Luria Psicología and PANASEF (Spanish Funeral Services Association), the plan consists in providing some 45 minutes of telephone support to anyone who needs it.

Although this disease has affected everyone regardless of sex or age group, Lucila Andrés, a grief counseling specialist at Grupo Luria Psicología, comments that there has been a “greater prevalence of calls from women over the age of 60 who had lost their husbands. But there were also quite a few adults seeking advice about how to deal with their parents and grandparents.” The loneliness of confinement, being unable to share with any degree of normalcy the sad loss of relatives and loved ones, the speed of the fatal outcome, and the absence of any farewell ritual “have led to a tremendous need to be accompanied, listened to and understood in this painful process,” the psychologist adds.

Much of their work at the other end of the line has been to “normalize their emotions and help them to better understand what they have just been through. In many cases, users have been able to express the pain without the emotional contagion that occurs if they do so in front of family members (‘I don’t want to cry in front of my son so he doesn’t suffer’).” It is also important for the relatives of the deceased “to put their suffering into words and share it with someone capable of offering them guidance and comprehension. That experience has comforted them a lot.” And, for this reason, the expressions of gratitude have been numerous, highly sincere and moving.

It is not easy to console those who have been through such a traumatic experience. “We must not forget that the loss of a loved one is one of the toughest experiences anyone goes through,” Andrés remarks. That’s why it’s so important to “accompany the person, fully understanding their emotional state: guilt, grief, anger…” All these feelings are even harder to digest when they were not even able to bid farewell to loved ones. That is why “we put forward ideas regarding the many ways to pay your last respects and that this is just a postponement. The day will come when they are able to bid farewell in a fitting manner.”

“It’s vital to convince them of the importance of organizing their daily life and maintaining adequate schedules for meals, rest, exercise and relationships. Likewise, it is advisable to be able to incorporate, little by little, the memory of the deceased person and the life shared with them. Every individual and every family will manage this through their prayer rituals (where they practice these), conversations or looking at photos of family events,” continues the psychologist, for whom the idea of going to the doctor, if need be, cannot be ruled out. Even more so in the case of elderly people, given that the shock of losing a loved one may prove too much for them.