Mano a Mano, Our Medical Supply Program, and COVID-19 Updates

With the Stay at Home MN executive order from Governor Tim Walz, the Mano a Mano St. Paul office will be closed through April 10th. These are weird and challenging times for everyone, everywhere. In Bolivia, the country is under a complete lockdown until mid-April, meaning people can’t leave their homes except on specific days based on their ID number or in cases of emergency. They are subject to arrest and fines if they are caught out on the street (last week 2 of our Bolivian staff were briefly jailed, when they were unable to get back home in time to meet an early afternoon curfew). In Cochabamba, where our 4 counterpart organizations are based, we hear from staff that the situation is pretty difficult. Food is already in short supply, as farmers find travel into the city blocked, and elect to stay in their villages. Although stores and pharmacies remain open for now, there are many empty grocery shelves, with no real assurances of re-stocking.

Donating Needed Medical Supplies in Cochabamba in Times of Quarantine

Yesterday (March 26, 2020), Mano a Mano staff Juan and Blanca, escorted by an an ambulance due to the quarantine, went to our warehouse on the outskirts of Cochabamba to pick up a few boxes of medical supplies to donate in Santivañez. A man visiting from Spain went to a two-day wedding party in Santivañez, 25km south of Cochabamba. He tested positive for COVID-19, potentially having infected hundreds of wedding guests. Local health authorities were desperately searching for N95 masks. Mano a Mano was escorted by ambulance to the Mano a Mano warehouse to retrieve 120 N95 masks. With a strict quarantine and testing of those affected in Santivañez, an outbreak can hopefully be averted.

Basic medical supplies are in especially desperate need throughout the world right now with the COVID-19 pandemic. Mano a Mano distributes 200,000 pounds of medical supplies and equipment annually to people & organizations in need in Bolivia. We receive urgent requests on a daily basis, and we are distributing what we have available in these challenging times (we have very limited quantities of PPE & cleaning supplies, with much of what we had already having been distributed).

Mano a Mano Updates & Recent Projects in Bolivia

Mano a Mano staff is continuing to work as best as they are able from home. Before the lockdown went into effect around March 21st in Bolivia, Mano a Mano was very active as usual, dedicating new clinics and water projects, and distributing donated supplies sent from Minnesota; below are a few updates from the past month:

The Kaspi Cancha clinic (pictured while under construction in late 2019) was dedicated by our counterpart organization Mano a Mano Bolivia on March 9, 2020. This is Mano a Mano’s 171st clinic project.

COVID-19 and Our Medical Supply Program – Donating Supplies in the Twin Cities

In St. Paul, we are monitoring the situation in Bolivia and in the US. Like everyone, we are struggling to figure out how to navigate things currently, given new and ever-changing regulations on international travel, shipping, and everything else. We had to postpone our trip to Bolivia with 13 people from Minnesota that was scheduled to leave on March 13th, which was obviously a good call in retrospect. One traveler had arrived in Bolivia earlier on his own, and we were lucky to be able to reschedule his flights from Bolivia back to the US on one of the last international flights before travel restrictions went into effect. We had planned on shipping our first 2 containers of medical supplies & equipment of the year on March 6-7, but we were unable to find containers, since they are usually sourced from China. Our plan at the time was to reschedule for April, but that is up in the air now too.

With the ability to ship to Bolivia on hold for at least a little while, we have been inventorying the supplies in our warehouse to determine what we might donate to local facilities here in the Twin Cities, which we have already been doing more of over the past year.

On Saturday, February 1, 2020 Mano a Mano donated 162 pieces of mobility equipment and medical supplies to people in need in the Twin Cities. The items ranged from glucometers and blood pressure cuffs to canes, shower chairs, and commodes. The estimated total value of these supplies is $16,000. This project was a collaboration with Twin Cities-area physical therapists to help distribute mobility equipment to some of their clients that have difficulty acquiring needed items. We have another Twin Cities distribution scheduled for April 25th (TBD if that will take place).

Equipping a White Bear Lake Free Clinic This Week

Earlier this week, we dropped off supplies & equipment to a newly opened free clinic in White Bear Lake. The clinic was planned to open later this year, and we had been in conversation with Jessica Miehe, Graduate Clinical Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Nursing at St. Kate’s who was coordinating the opening of the clinic, about helping her find supplies to equip it. In response to families who are needing care during the COVID-19 crisis, Jessica and St. Kate’s decided to open this White Bear Lake SBHC early, and will start offering primary care services in the schools this week. They said that this will be a makeshift/emergent clinic until they can get the “official” clinic up and running.

Supplies ready to drop off at the White Bear Lake free clinic: hand sanitizer, face shields, exam gloves, face masks, exam room chair, and scale. We also picked up an exam table from MATTER and donated it to the free clinic.

Helping a Laundry Facility Make Masks

A local medical laundry facility regularly donates sheets and other items that they have cleaned but that have passed a specified age limit (but are all still in good condition). They called Mano a Mano this week to ask if we could return a gaylord of sheets that they previously donated to us so they can be used to make masks, which we were happy to do. We have recently shared a few other urgently needed supplies with a couple of other organizations as well, including a donation of sanitizing wipes to Neighborhood House, and a box of supplies to Open Cities Health Center.

The vast majority of the donated supplies and equipment we send out of our St. Paul warehouse (95%+) goes to Bolivia – our core mission is to create partnerships with Bolivian communities to improve health and increase economic well-being, and their need is always extremely urgent; the high demand for supplies is before the added burdens created by COVID-19. But we are happy to partner with other organizations when we have excess supplies, items that we cannot send to Bolivia, or items that are not the highest priority for our programs. Ultimately, we want to keep these supplies out of the landfill in Minnesota, and get them to people in need. The strain on healthcare systems is being felt everywhere right now, and we plan to share what we have available as we are able (we only have a small inventory of PPE and cleaning supplies).

Impact of COVID-19 on Mano a Mano

Everyone is being heavily impacted by COVID-19. While we are unable to do our normal work at our offices in St. Paul and Cochabamba, and our projects and programs in both countries are essentially on hold, staff continues to work remotely as we can (that’s easier for some than others). Mano a Mano counts ourselves among the lucky organizations that are in a position to weather this storm for awhile; we feel for the many, many people & organizations that are already facing extreme financial difficulties and having to make difficult decisions and layoffs – not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people that have been infected by the coronavirus and are facing the most severe consequences. We as an organization are not in as difficult a position as many others are at this point, and we are grateful for that.

While we don’t know what the future holds, we are hopeful of a not-too-distant future where we can get back to work at some level of normal. There will be adjustments to timelines and goals (and everything!), but no matter what, we will continue to work on improving lives, mano a mano (“hand in hand” – for now, virtually, with good social distancing).

If you would like to support Mano a Mano’s work, you can donate here. We especially appreciate contributions in difficult times, and it helps tremendously to take care of our idle staff and programs, and be able to continue when we are able on the many projects that are currently on hold. In addition to the current projects on hold, Mano a Mano always has an active backlog of 100+ requests from Bolivian communities for projects addressing basic human requirements for a decent life – access to water and food (water wells, reservoirs, agricultural tools & training); ability to travel (roads); access to health (clinics, medical supplies & equipment); and access to education (schools). Your support makes it possible to help more people and more communities in need. (You can read about our partnership model here to learn more about how we work.)

Also please consider supporting all of your favorite nonprofits and small businesses as much as you are able! Best wishes to everyone in these difficult times.


Nate Knatterud-Hubinger, Executive Director, [email protected]