COVID-19 is a powerful reminder of the world’s inequalities and how we are only as strong as our weakest health system.

The International Rescue Committee is closely monitoring the pandemic’s effects on the 40 countries in which we work.

The data is clear: while wealthy countries struggle to contain COVID-19, fragile and conflict-affected nations face overwhelming challenges, from inadequate health care infrastructures to an alarming lack of testing.

The pandemic will not end anywhere until it is beaten everywhere. Go inside the sobering data below, which confirms the urgent need to protect the most vulnerable.

For every million people in Yemen, there are only 31 coronavirus tests.

The information we are gathering about the spread of the coronavirus in conflict-affected countries is alarming, but it may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Recent data compiled by the IRC on May 21 reveal significant shortfalls in COVID-19 testing. Yemen, with only 31 coronavirus tests for every million people, is not an outlier. When the data was collected, Nigeria had only 165 tests per million people, northeast Syria just 59.

These figures offer a stark comparison to rich countries like the U.S., with 38,394 tests per million as of May 21, and Germany, with 42,581.

The lack of testing means that the full scope of the outbreak in conflict-affected countries may be obscured, hindering efforts to trace, isolate and treat the disease.

In Burkina Faso, there are only 11 ventilators for a population of 20 million.

With only 11 ventilators as of April 9, the West African nation of Burkina Faso is one of many countries facing a shortage of medical supplies exasperated by violence. Almost 500,000 of the country’s 20 million people have had to flee their homes as armed groups continue to consolidate their presence across swathes of the country.

"The major increase Burkina Faso has seen in attacks by armed groups over the past year compounds the difficulty of mitigating the spread of a disease in an active conflict area, as we've seen with Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo," says Bob Kitchen, IRC vice president of emergencies and humanitarian action.

Other countries compromised by conflict include Syria, where there were 85 attacks on health facilities in the north of the country last year alone, and Yemen, where only half of the nation’s hospitals are fully functional.

These nations face a “double emergency” as the virus’s health effects are coupled with escalations in conflict and political and economic instability provoked by the outbreak.

Half of Venezuela's doctors have fled the country.

Venezuela is suffering from a longstanding economic and humanitarian crisis that has rendered it ill-prepared to face the pandemic.

At least 4 million people have left the country seeking a better life. That number includes half of the country’s doctors; 90 percent of its hospitals are short of medicine and critical supplies.

In addition, Venezuelans living outside the country are affected disproportionately by lockdown measures in the region that make it impossible for them to earn an income. In Colombia, a near-shut-down of the border has left thousands attempting to return home stranded or forced to use unsafe routes.

A mother with two kids sit under a makeshift tent surrounded by their luggage. They are all wearing masks and are looking directly at the camera.
Venezuelans shelter from the sun on the Bogotá-Chia highway as they attempt to walk to the border of Venezuela and Colombia.
Photo: IRC


In Moria refugee camp in Greece, there are 204 people per 1,000 meters squared

Social distancing is one of the proven ways to slow the coronavirus. But refugees around the world face overcrowded conditions that make the life-saving strategy nearly impossible.

The now-infamous Diamond Princess cruise ship offers a measure of comparison: the virus spread four times faster on the ship than in Wuhan at the peak of city’s outbreak. This was partially due to the ship’s population density: the Diamond Princess housed 24 people for every 1,000 meters squared. Moria refugee camp in Greece has 204 people per 1,000 meters squared.

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#COVID19 spreads faster in densely populated areas. ⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ Our new research shows that some refugee camps are even MORE densely populated than the Diamond Princess cruise ship - where the virus spread 4 times faster than in Wuhan, China at the peak of the outbreak. ⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ Swipe to learn more from @monachalabi. ⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ We're particularly concerned about refugee camps Moria in Greece, Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh and Al-Hol in Syria. ⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ The sad truth is: the advice given to protect ourselves from the virus—wash your hands with soap and clean water, visit a health clinic if symptomatic, and self isolate or use social distancing—is not always possible for refugee families to follow when living in cramped spaces. ⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ But if we take action now, we can slow the spread of COVID-19 - and save lives. At IRC, we're working around the clock to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus in refugee camps and beyond. ⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ Please double tap & share this post to help us raise awareness for the threat of the #Coronavirus in refugee camps and the need for urgent action.⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ And a massive thank you to illustrator and data journalist @MonaChalabi for helping us bring this to life! ⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ Learn more at the link in our bio.

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The world risks almost 3 million deaths in 34 countries.

Based on potential response scenarios, the IRC estimates between 500 million and up to 1 billion coronavirus infections, and between 1.7 million up to 3.2 million deaths, in 34 countries where we work—including war-torn nations like Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen—without context-appropriate and immediate action. 

These numbers are conservative. The data presumes levels of medical care available in China (the source of the best available COVID-19 mortality figures) would be available elsewhere. But the fragile states in question have nowhere near the health care capacity of China.

“These numbers should serve as a wake-up call,” says IRC president and CEO David Miliband

A health worker takes a patient’s temperature before they enter a clinic run by the IRC in a town in northwest Syria.
A health worker takes a patient’s temperature before they enter a clinic run by the IRC in a town in northwest Syria. Urgent action is needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus in fragile and conflict-affected countries.
Photo: IRC

What is the IRC doing to help?

IRC teams on the ground are providing essential health care services, equipping aid workers with protective gear and delivering hygiene kits to people in refugee camps and crisis zones.

The IRC's response strategy aims to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and treat patients while focusing on meeting the other health and economic needs of the people we serve, and expanding our protection services for women and girls. As part of this effort, our research and innovation team is helping create cost-effective COVID-19 solutions tailored for the crisis zones in which we work.

How can I help?

The IRC has launched a $30 million appeal to help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations, protect our staff, and ensure the continuation of our lifesaving programming.

Donate now to support our work.