Doctors Without Borders sets up in Switzerland to help coronavirus fight

Normally deployed in war-torn and impoverished regions, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has been set up in the Swiss canton of Geneva to help in the battle against coronavirus.

Doctors Without Borders sets up in Switzerland to help coronavirus fight
(Illustration) A picture taken on March 30, 2020, shows a bed in a temporary Doctors Without Borders (MSF) 50 places shelter for homeless people suspected of being infected with the novel coronavirus

The organisation, founded in France but now headquartered in Geneva, has set up two teams of specialists in the canton.

One team will assist Geneva University Hospital in responding to the crisis. The team has experience battling Ebola and cholera pandemics in Africa and will assist with developing strategies on how to manage patients with the virus as well as how best to apportion hospital resources. 

“Under the coordination of the (University Hospital), we have a mobile medical team ready to provide home-based care to people with COVID-19, who do not meet the criteria for hospital admission,” MSF said in a statement

“In collaboration with the City of Geneva, we have made recommendations to public and private mortuary services on procedures to avoid any post-mortem transmission of the disease.

The other team will be deployed to assist the most vulnerable people in the canton, particularly the homeless and migrants. As MSF said in a statement “people living in overcrowded conditions, on the streets, in makeshift camps or in substandard housing are at particular risk (from the virus)”. 

“Viruses thrive in areas with poor water and sanitation. In addition, many of these marginalised groups are excluded from the formal healthcare system.”

MSF President Christos Christou said that the organisation had a responsibility to help all countries affected by the coronavirus, regardless of whether they were better equipped than others to handle the outbreak. 

““As an emergency humanitarian organisation, MSF provides medical assistance to vulnerable people in a moment of crisis and societal disruption,” he said. 

“Today, in Europe some of the most advanced health systems in the world are buckling under the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic. Responding to epidemics is at the core of what we do – intervening when the system is overrun and where we can put our expertise in managing emergencies to good use.”

Between 3,000 to 5,000 homeless people and at-risk migrants are believed to live in the canton of Geneva. 



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Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad