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COVID-19 threatens the world’s most vulnerable people

Press release | 9th April 2020, 12:00

Photo By Markus Spiske On Unsplash

Photo By Markus Spiske On Unsplash

Without appropriate action, the coronavirus pandemic will disproportionately affect vulnerable groups in the poorest, conflict and disaster affected countries

Humanity & Inclusion is deeply concerned for vulnerable populations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Persons with disabilities, persons with chronic diseases, refugees, older people, etc., are particularly at threat from the pandemic. Displaced families are often sheltering in overcrowded camps in countries where public health systems are poorly resourced while persons with disabilities have limited access to health services. Many countries already hit by crisis will be unable to cope with the pandemic, causing catastrophic consequences especially for the most vulnerable. Humanitarian aid workers must have access to the most vulnerable to provide them with prevention and protection measures and to ensure that they receive essential humanitarian assistance.

Exacerbating humanitarian crises

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc in Europe, it starts to threaten poor and low-income countries. The world’s poorest countries are ill prepared for COVID-19. Countries like Madagascar, Haiti, Sudan, Mozambique, etc., are already coping with humanitarian crises triggered by natural disasters, conflict, climate change, and other emergencies. Health systems in these countries are fragile or overstretched.  

Long-term conflicts have decimated health systems. In Yemen for example, torn apart by five years of war, 80% of the population needed humanitarian aid even before COVID-19, and only 50% of the healthcare system is fully functioning.

COVID-19 aggravates humanitarian needs, while limiting aid actors’ ability to reach the very populations in dire need of care and aid.

In war zones, hospitals and health facilities have been destroyed, medical personnel are in short supply, and where bombs are still falling, doctors have severe physical traumas to contend with, let alone trying to treat the people infected with COVID-19. We talk about a shortage of ventilators in London, but what about these hospitals, damaged by bombing and shelling, which lack even regular electricity?” says Aleema Shivji, Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion UK.

COVID-19 stands to ravage refugee camps

The vast majority of the world’s refugees (29 million people, 84% of refugees) have found shelter in low or middle-income nations with weak health systems, and overstretched water and sanitation facilities.

In Bangladesh, 855,000 Rohingya refugees are packed into 34 overcrowded, makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar. What’s more, 450,000 host community members live in close proximity to the camps, with five camps intermixed with the local population. Measures of social distancing and basic hygiene are almost impossible to achieve in such a densely populated environment. Even at the best of times, the refugee population has low access to health services.

Refugee camps give the coronavirus a perfect setting for rapid infection. This is where we, humanitarians, will fight our fiercest battles against COVID-19.” says Aleema Shivji. “We tell people to wash their hands several times a day, but what if there is no running water? We tell people to maintain 1 meter distance from one another, but that’s impossible when camps are overcrowded. We reserve hospitals for COVID-19’s sickest victims, yet camps have acute shortages of health facilities. All these aggravating factors mean that COVID-19 will spread at a terrifying pace-risking a heightened humanitarian disaster.”

COVID-19 aggravates isolation of persons with disabilities

Persons with disabilities represent 15% of the world population (1 billion people), yet 80% of them live below the poverty line, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). They face multiple obstacles to access services including health services such as cost of care services, cost for transportation to go to a health center, lack of sign language interpretation, stigma and discrimination, etc.

Some persons with specific disability types are at higher risk of contracting and developing severe cases of COVID-19, as the infection exacerbates existing health conditions that they experience, such as weakened immune systems, respiratory conditions, or other chronic conditions. Lack of information on COVID-19 in accessible formats (easy read formats, captions or sign language, braille, audio materials, and materials accessible to screen reading software) and accessible sanitation facilities also represent risk factors for some persons with disabilities.

Public measures and humanitarian actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and to care for patients must include persons with disabilities. Prevention information should always be distributed in a variety of accessible formats and health actors should specifically target vulnerable populations throughout their response efforts.

 “COVID-19 will disrupt services that persons with disabilities usually rely on, including their access to a caregiver and access to essential medications and treatments. We’re also particularly worried that persons with disabilities will face stigma or discrimination from unprepared health staff or worse, or be refused treatment if priority is given to patients without disabilities, due to limited capacity in hospitals.” Says Aleema Shivji.


Humanity & Inclusion adapts its programs to face the COVID-19  

- Humanity & Inclusion adapts its interventions by including actions to prevent transmission and ensuring access to basic needs (food, hygiene products, health services) for the most vulnerable people. 50 projects have started to include measures in response to the coronavirus, with awareness and prevention activities (Algeria, Bangladesh, Colombia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Sierra Leone,...), adaptations of Humanity & Inclusion logistics support in Central Africa, and distributions of protective equipment (gloves, masks, hydro-alcoholic gel, especially in Rwanda).

- Awareness raising on hygiene and protection measures is Humanity & Inclusion’s priority. Our teams are trained to protect themselves and to educate the people they help to prevention (hand hygiene with soap or hydro-alcoholic gel, respect of distances, good practices to protect oneself...). Specific advice is  given to persons with disabilities, with adapted format for those who have difficulty communicating, such as people with hearing or visual disabilities. Prevention messages also target caregivers.

- Humanity & Inclusion's logistics business unit specializing in supply chain and logistics solutions for NGOs, Atlas Logistique, is ready to help. Atlas Logistique will be able to provide NGOs with its logistics platforms and its expertise as an analyst in access issues. Emergency response activities include the distribution of hygiene materials or livelihood support.

- In Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, for example, a third of the Humanity & Inclusion teams are involved in the pursuit of essential activities and in the response to COVID-19. Our teams conduct awareness raising sessions on good hygiene practices among refugees and host communities, identify people in need of medical care and refer them to partner organizations, provide individual psychological support to the most vulnerable. Humanity & Inclusion has made available two storage areas for humanitarian equipment from NGOs and a fleet of trucks to deliver humanitarian equipment (hygiene kits, mobility aids, etc.) to the populations. More than 150 online trainings (including some specific to the implementation of the humanitarian response to the Covid-19) will be available to the members of our teams in the coming days, and shared with colleagues in other countries such as Nepal.

Press contact

Marlene Manning, Humanity & Inclusion UK
Email: [email protected]

About Humanity & Inclusion

Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Humanity & Inclusion (HI) is a charity working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. We work tirelessly alongside and vulnerable people to help meet their basic needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights. 

HI-US Media Contact

Mira Adam
Sr. Media Officer
[email protected]
Tel: +1 (202) 855-0301

Elizabeth J. Sellers
e[email protected]
Tel: +1 (270) 847-3443


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