COVID-19: Where will it strike next?

By now, most of us know what we should be doing to keep safe during the COVID-19 pandemic: stay home as much as possible, wash your hands frequently and seek medical attention if you have a fever, cough or shortness of breath.

While shelter-in-place recommendations can feel stressful, most of us can be confident that by taking a few simple precautions we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from this indiscriminate virus.

Burundi

But what if home is a tent in an overcrowded refugee camp? What if the only way to wash your hands is to use a jerry can of water and a bar of soap at a community water point? Or what if the nearest health facility — never mind an intensive-care unit — is three miles away and you have to walk to get there? Suddenly, staying safe might feel a lot less within your control.

As we watch Lombardy, Madrid and New York City struggle with overwhelmed health systems, shortages of equipment and supplies, and overworked health workers facing unthinkable choices as they treat their patients, we also remember that many of the people we serve around the world face big obstacles to taking even basic precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19.

According to The Lancet, “80% of refugees live in low-income and middle-income countries, the sites of the expected fourth wave of COVID-19 behind China, Europe and the USA. Already, these settings have weak healthcare systems, scarce protective equipment, and poor testing and treatment capacity.”

As the pandemic begins to slowly appear in these countries — like the first drops of rain before a storm — International Medical Corps has been working hard to ensure that our staff has the right equipment, supplies and proper training in infection prevention and control (IPC) to help themselves and the people they serve.

In the Middle East, we’re activating COVID-19 responses in all of our missions. For example, in Yemen, which just reported its first case on April 10, we’ve trained 95 community health volunteers who will share educational messages on COVID-19 prevention and protection with their communities — by using 229 WhatsApp groups they’ve created in Sana’a. In Iraq, we’re supplying personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals serving refugees, local populations and internally displaced people, providing our staff with infection prevention and control training and supplies, and expanding our water, sanitation and hygiene activities. And in Syria, we’re distributing hand sanitizer and soap, and providing PPE, training and mental health support.

In Africa, our response is focused on Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Libya, Nigeria and South Sudan. Examples of our work include providing PPE and testing supplies, helping with triage and screening, and distributing critical community messaging about physical distancing and handwashing. And we’re ensuring that all water, sanitation and hygiene systems are functioning at the health facilities we support.

And for weeks we’ve been on the front lines across the United States, helping underserved communities in Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Chicago and Puerto Rico fight this deadly virus.

We’re mindful of the potentially dire situations we have yet to face. Together, we’ve met many challenges. And together, we’ll continue to do everything we can to save lives and relieve suffering in the face of one of the biggest health crises that humanity has ever faced.

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International Med. Corps

International Med. Corps

International Medical Corps relieves the suffering of those impacted by conflict, natural disaster and disease by delivering medical relief and training.