Learn from others
The Free Clinic in Antwerp started a protective mask exchange point where people who use drugs can receive masks and get a newly washed one in exchange to a used mask. This service takes place in the same place where sterile needles and syringes can be obtained.
In the beginning of the epidemic in Belgium we wanted to keep our services open as long as possible – so se kept a part of the team home at stand-by. This way we had a back-up team, in case healthcare providers got ill. All healthcare providers work behind a plexi-glass protection, with masks. Healthcare providers kept contact with clients by telephone, Whatsapp, Messenger, videocalls… We had regular Zoom meetings between all coordinators (3 times a week), updating the measures and keeping the ball rolling. All other meetings between healtcare providers were with Zoom. Since Mai 20th almost all healthcare workers are back at the office and we are moving towards a total service. Still keeping maximum protection but going back to a maximum service.
At the low-threshold centre people have to come in one by one (with a maximum of 4 people in the waitingroom), can see a doctor for medication, or a nurse for woundcare. Social service is limited to crisisses and new intakes. We think it is important that new clients can enter the program in these times.
All people who use the services of Free Clinic can get a paper which proves that they need to come to the Free Clinic for healthcare services. (Because in Belgium there is a lockdown and “unneeded transport” is not allowed.)
OAT schemes are adapted, people who are very stable get more dosages to take home with them. We try to give as many medication as possible – so that people do not need to come as many as they used to .
Needle exchange programme keeps working also behind protective plexiglass. It gives more sterile equipment and does not worry if they return the equipments back. Of course we still stimulate people to do so. This is also communicated with our funder, the Flemmish government.
C-Buddy project keeps on working and has weekly consultation with the liver specialist. Maximum 4 people can come to the consultation, but people can still start their Hep C-Treatment – these are the more stable people who do not need that much support.
Support is brought back to a minimum level – depending on the need. Few people with COPD get extra support.
The activation and drop-in centre is open all days – giving soup and coffee outside. People can sit there for a while with respect to distance.
On April 11 we started a mask-exchange for all clients of the Free Clinic. PWUD get a homemade mask, advise and get sensitised. They can bring back the mask the next day, and get a newly washed one. This exchange takes place in the needle exchange and drop-in centres. We’ve provided more than 1000 masks to our clients. This was needed because in some public spaces – like public transport it is mandatory to wear a mask. The system of mask-exchange has been working well since the beginning.
This article was submitted by Tessa Winelinckx, Free Clinic Belgium, and was first uploaded to the HARM REDUCTION COVID-19 RESPONSE website of Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network. We thank Correlation for contacting Free Clinic and making it possible to present their actions also on the Save Lives- Protect People platform.
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