What does it look like to protect the world’s most vulnerable from the novel coronavirus?
The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, continues to spread globally and has reached countries with weak health systems which are less prepared to combat the disease. Vulnerable populations and those living in crisis will be hit the hardest by this outbreak.
That’s where the IRC comes in. We’ve launched coronavirus preparedness and response programs in over 40 countries, including the United States, Greece, Syria and Yemen. From sharing crucial information in Italy to training health care workers in Syria to continuing our vital work with refugees in the U.S., our teams are on the ground responding to the outbreak every day. You can donate to support our work here.
Editor's note: This article is no longer being updated. Please visit our coronavirus topic page for more information on our ongoing COVID-19 response.
Follow this space for the latest on our vital work around the world:
- Despite the pandemic, IRC clients across the world continue to pursue their dreams and support their communities. Hundreds of people on social media recently joined the IRC in congratulating Olivier, a refugee, nurse, and recent college graduate.
- Our dedicated team of health workers in Bangladesh spent Eid away from their families, working 24/7 to provide vital services to the refugee community. Below, they shared a meal together in the IRC health facility.
- Even before COVID-19, Libya suffered from critical shortages of healthcare workers, medicine and medical supplies. IRC is supporting twelve health clinics and one community development center, and delivering supplies to protect health workers and patients including masks, gloves and gowns for two health facilities in the city of Gharyan.
IRC workers deliver supplies to combat COVID-19 in Libya.
- Our health team in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, do a dance while practicing hand washing techniques.
- The IRC released new data revealing an alarming testing shortfall in conflict-affected states. Yemen, for instance, has only 31 tests for every million people.
- An IRC hygiene promoter provides training and critical information about COVID-19 to men, women, and children in Herat province, Afghanistan, one of the worst-hit provinces in the country during this outbreak. “I use all my strengths together to provide my clients and their families the best,” she says. “Combating the virus gives me hope.”
An IRC hygiene promoter provides training and critical information about COVID-19 to children in Afghanistan.
- Chef José Andrés visited a meal distribution site in Elizabeth, New Jersey run by his charity, World Central Kitchen, alongside the IRC. The staff in Elizabeth, which includes many refugees, has provided 81,000 meals for the community so far.
- How do you explain an invisible virus to children? Watch how IRC Environmental Officer Katerina Sala teaches refugee children in Lesvos, Greece, about the importance of using soap and how it protects them from viruses like #COVID19.
- After thousands of Venezuelans became stranded at the Colombia-Venezuelan border, IRC teams mobilized quickly to implement triage medical care, including for COVID-19. Watch as IRC Voice and actress Morena Baccarin discusses the crisis and our response with IRC country director Marianne Menjivar.
- The IRC has made adaptations to our women’s protection and empowerment programs to slow the spread of COVID-19. Below, women in one of our safe spaces in Tanzania practice basket weaving while maintaining social distancing. Trainings like this are not only useful for economic empowerment, the programs also give women an opportunity to build networks and access other services provided at the women’s centers.
Women in one of the IRC's safe spaces for women in Tanzania practice basket weaving while maintaining social distancing.
- Before the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Cox's Bazer, Bangladesh, on May 14 the IRC was already ramping up its response. Watch as our teams describe their work on a new coronavirus isolation and treatment center.
- On May 14, the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the world's largest refugee camp: Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. The IRC called for a rapid scaling up of funding to save lives.
- During the coronavirus pandemic, the IRC continues to offer essential health care. Below are midwives wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) at the reproductive health clinic in Bakassi Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria. The clinic offers sexual and reproductive healthcare 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Around 150 women give birth there each month.
Midwives wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) at the reproductive health clinic in Bakassi Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria.
Photo: Temitope Oyelade/IRC
- Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, is home to the largest refugee camp in the world. In anticipation of coronavirus reaching the camp, the IRC is building an isolation unit and treatment center for COVID-19 patients. Watch as the team begins building and the IRC’s Bangladesh country director describes the program.
- As part of the IRC’s continuing gender-based violence group programming for Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, new moms wrote how having a new baby made them feel. Verónica Andrade, who could not return to be with her partner in Venezuela due to the coronavirus, holds a sign saying “Maravilloso” (or “Wonderful”). When asked to share her hopes for her baby, she said “a stable home and a great love, and that someday they can know the country where their parents are from.”
Verónica Andrade holds a sign saying “Maravilloso” (or “Wonderful”) to describe how having a new baby feels.
- As part of COVID-19 precautionary measures, tents have been set up outside our clinics in northwest Syria, where patients go through a process of sanitization and having their temperature checked. Below, a health worker disinfects a patient’s shoes before he enters a clinic.
A health worker disinfects a patient’s shoes before he enters a clinic in northwest Syria.
- Nine years of conflict have devastated Syria's health system, which now must face the threat of COVID-19. Hear from our doctors in the northeast about how they continue to serve displaced families at our health clinics—safely.
- Ahlan Simsim, the IRC and Sesame Workshop’s early childhood development program, has continued remotely during COVID-19. Watch as caregivers use Ahlan Simsim activities with their young ones.
- Accurate information is key to fighting COVID-19. Below, IRC educational materials are displayed in areas with high foot traffic in Sukkur, Pakistan.
IRC educational materials are displayed in areas with high foot traffic in Sukkur, Pakistan.
- The Sotheby’s and Google auction to benefit the IRC began on May 1. The experiences up for auction include a virtual coffee with Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss how the Covid-19 pandemic will change the way in which we view the world and how you can help create positive change amidst this crisis.
- The IRC has partnered with Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen to provide New Yorkers in need with free meals. Watch below as an IRC staff member, Dina, explains why she is happy to help feed her neighbors in Brooklyn.
- In Mexico, we have launched, together with local authorities and civil society partners, a public health awareness and psychosocial support campaign for shelters at the Mexico-US border. Here, IRC staff deliver cleaning supplies vital to combating COVID-19.
As part of a program to support shelters on the U.S.-Mexico border, IRC staff deliver cleaning supplies vital to combating COVID-19 in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
- After a week of hard work preparing to combat COVID-19, our staff in Kakuma refugee camp took a much-deserved self-care dance break.
- Sotheby’s and Google have joined forces for an online auction of unique virtual experiences with leading figures from all walks of culture, business, politics and science—all to benefit the IRC. The unparalleled experiences up for auction include recording a song with Sting, a coffee and conversation with Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Shakespearean acting lesson from Sir Patrick Stewart, coffee or tea with Madeleine Albright, and a hang out with Sacha Baron Cohen.
- Game of Thrones actor and IRC Voice Lena Headey, at home in London, caught up with IRC psychologist Kiki Michailidou in Greece to hear how refugees she had met on her visits there were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. Lena asked Kiki how anyone could self-isolate in a crowded refugee camp—it must be impossible. “It is impossible,” Kiki told her.
- In a column on how to help during the coronavirus pandemic, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof urged his readers to donate to the IRC. “As the son of a refugee,” he wrote. “I feel particular admiration for an aid group that tries to save the lives of people who have already endured so much.”
- The IRC has provided personal protective equipment (PPE) to health workers at the seventeen clinics we are supporting in northeast Syria. Below a pharmacist dispenses medication to a mother at a primary health care clinic.
A pharmacist dispenses medication to a mother at a primary health care clinic supported by the IRC in Hassakeh governorate.
- In David Miliband’s latest message to supporters, he stresses the value of our education work during the pandemic.
- Michael Bloomberg’s foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, announced a $10 million contribution to support our efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on vulnerable populations across the globe, and for additional work that will be needed to protect these peoples.
- Around 104,000 people uprooted from Myanmar live in refugee camps in Thailand. IRC's response to the coronavirus includes setting up triage, screening and isolation rooms at health facilities within the camps and informing the camp leadership on the situation. Below, a refugee medic in Umpiem Mai camp practices safe donning of personal protective equipment (PPE) and our camp-based staff designs face shields for frontline workers at our health clinics.
A refugee medic in Umpiem Mai camp practicing safe donning of personal protective equipment (PPE).
IRC Thailand's camp-based staff designs face shields for front-line workers at health clinics in the refugee camps.
- The IRC responded to the Trump Administration's planned Executive Order to ban immigration to the U.S., pointing to the immense contributions immigrants have made to the fight against the coronavirus.
- Watch as Tamara, an IRC pharmacist, provides Syrian women at the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan with medicine for reproductive health.
- The IRC continues to provide maternal health care and cash programming to Venezuelan migrants in Colombia. Here, patients wait outside—six feet apart—for their appointments in the IRC's maternal health clinic in Cúcuta, Colombia.
Patients wait outside—six feet apart—for their appointments in the IRC's maternal health clinic in Cúcuta, Colombia.
- The IRC’s health clinics in Jordan in the Azraq and Zaatari Camps and in Mafraq and Ramtha remain open in spite of a national lockdown, and we are committed to continuing our services safely. Here an IRC midwife speaks with a patient.
The IRC’s health clinics in Jordan in the Azraq and Zaatari Camps and in Mafraq and Ramtha remain open in spite of a national lockdown. Here an IRC midwife provides services.
- When the coronavirus hit Dallas, TX, Isabella Chamberlain knew IRC clients may have trouble accessing food. She found a solution: Working alone for safety, each week she distributes food—including fresh vegetables—to refugee and low-income families.
- Handwashing is a key tool in the fight against the coronavirus. By the beginning of April, the IRC team in Helmand province, in southern Afghanistan, had installed 20 hand-washing stations in multiple locations to encourage hand-washing in crowded areas. Below, a woman washes her hands at the main entry gate to the city of Lashkar Gah.
A woman washes her hands at an IRC handwashing station at the main entry gate to the city of Lashkar Gah, in Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
Photo: Ishaq Ali Ansar/IRC
- On April 15, IRC president and CEO David Miliband gave another update to supporters, including on the grave lack of supplies many fragile countries are facing and the urgent importance of international action.
- The IRC remains committed to continuing to serve and support refugees in the U.S. while maintaining the safety of our staff, clients, and community. Below, staff in Tucson, Arizona, deliver emergency care packages to refugee families.
- The IRC is working with our clients and with communities to ensure they are aware of how to protect themselves from the coronavirus and know where to seek support if they become ill. In Burkina Faso, for instance, our preventative work includes distributing soap and holding community trainings.
Staff distribute soap and hold community trainings in Burkina Faso.
- Yemen, which is experiencing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis after five years of war, confirmed its first case of COVID-19. The IRC released a statement calling for humanitarian and health actors to have the unfettered access they need to reach all those impacted by the virus.
- Conflict-affected and fragile countries face a “double emergency” from COVID-19 as the virus’s health effects couple with escalations in conflict and political and economic instability provoked by the outbreak. They also face a grave lack of medical supplies; the country of South Sudan, for instance, has only four ventilators. A new IRC report delved into the threat these countries are facing—and the urgent need to act.
- Accurate information is key as we combat the coronavirus. Here health workers trained by the IRC conduct an education session for members of the community at Arif Health Clinic in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Health workers trained by the IRC conduct an education session for members of the community at Arif Health Clinic in Mogadishu, Somalia.
- To mark World Health Day, the IRC spoke to four of our health care workers around the world about how their lives have changed during the coronavirus pandemic and what gives them hope even at this unprecedented time.
- IRC president and CEO David Miliband gave an update on our response to the coronavirus, including the spread of the virus in countries experiencing conflict such as Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Libya.
- Through our telemedicine service in our clinic in Cúcuta, Colombia, people can call in to describe their symptoms and be referred to our clinic or other service providers. In just one morning, the doctors and nurses staffing the center saw twelve patients and took fifty calls.
Doctors and nurses at our telemedicine clinic in Cúcuta, Colombia.
- A new IRC analysis reveals refugees and displaced people in camps in Syria, Greece and Bangladesh face a heightened risk of coronavirus owing to conditions that are even more cramped and densely populated than the Diamond Princess cruise—the ship where the virus spread four times faster than Wuhan at the outbreak’s peak. Illustrator and data journalist Mona Chalabi helped us bring that critical information to life:
- The IRC health clinic in the Za'atari refugee camp remains open amid a national lockdown in Jordan in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meet an IRC volunteer delivering vital medicine to refugees while following heightened safety measures.
- IRC offices in New York and New Jersey are partnering with World Central Kitchen and Chef José Andrés to provide free grab-and-go meals to local families in need. See our work in action in Brooklyn:
- From handwashing to personal protective equipment (PPE), the IRC is dedicated to combating COVID-19 while continuing to help those we serve. Our new video highlights our work in Kenya's Kakuma camp, home to some 194,000 refugees.
- There are many lessons from the response to the Ebola outbreak that can and must be applied in our response to the coronavirus. The head of the IRC’s health unit, Dr. Mesfin Teklu Tessema, outlined these critical lessons in Newsweek.
- The IRC is working to train staff and our clients to protect themselves and mitigate risk of disease spread in communities where we work. Here an IRC doctor demonstrates the proper way to put on gloves for health care workers and volunteers in an IRC health facility in Bangladesh.
An IRC doctor demonstrates the proper way to put on gloves for health care workers and volunteers in an IRC health facility in Bangladesh.
Photo: Maruf Hasan
- In Cúcuta, Colombia, the IRC set up a health call center run by doctors and nurses. Below, medical staff take a quick selfie in between appointments. Also in Colombia, staff in Medellín practice "foot greetings" (to limit physical contact and maintain distance), after distributing cash programming to 68 beneficiaries.
- In Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya, the IRC has trained health workers on COVID-19 and how to protect themselves, and reinforced proper hygiene and self isolation procedures. Here a Community Health Worker gives a presentation to the community.
A Community Health Worker speaks to the community in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.
- As the world marked five years of war in Yemen, the IRC raised the alarm about the threat that a COVID-19 outbreak poses to the country and the need for international aid and a ceasefire.
- Community Health Volunteers in Bangladesh are going door to door to tell people about COVID-19 prevention measures like hand washing and social distancing.
Community Health Volunteers in Bangladesh put up posters and talk to their community about COVID-19.
Photo: Maruf Hasan
- IRC frontline staff in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan are providing essential health care services to Syrian refugees. Here they share a message from health care workers that has become famous around the world: “I stayed at work for you, you stay at home for us."
- Below our team works in northwest Syria, where recent fighting forced nearly a million people to flee their homes and where the IRC provides cash grants to assist the most vulnerable families in rebuilding their lives. The precautions we are taking to ensure that COVID-19 is not spread include limiting the number of people and time spent at our centers, ensuring that our staff are wearing personal protective equipment, and ensuring that hand hygiene gel is widely available.
- Italy has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19 as it sweeps across Europe. Refugees and migrants in the country are especially vulnerable. In the midst of the country's lockdown, the IRC is using its Refugee.Info platform to share vital information with Italy's refugee population. Here a moderator updates the platform with new information.
Henry is one of the Refugee.Info moderators, sharing vital information with refugees and migrants living in Italy.
- On Monday, March 23, COVID-19 was confirmed in Syria.
- The IRC remains committed to continuing to serve and support refugees in the U.S., even as our offices move to remote work. Here our team in Denver is working hard to put together and deliver essential supplies—including food—to clients across the Denver metro area.
- Ever before COVID-19, our interactive service mapping and information platform CuentaNos.org provided information on shelter, health, education, and legal assistance for users in El Salvador and Honduras. Today, the platform is used to provide crucial information about COVID-19 to over 140 partners and all users who visit the site.
CuéntaNos, an IRC platform, is shown on a phone in a neighborhood in San Salvador.
Photo: Neil Brandvold, IRC
- In Boise, Idaho, our teams have translated COVID-19 guidance into eight languages, including Swahili, Russian, Spanish, and Arabic, and are sharing the resources with the community.
- On March 18, Jordan completely shut down because of COVID-19. But IRC’s frontline workers in Jordan continue to provide essential health services in refugee camps in the country.
IRC’s frontline workers in Jordan continue to provide essential health services in refugee camps in Jordan.
Photo: Marco Aviotti, IRC
- “For the ten of millions of people who the IRC serves around the world, self-isolating, washing their hands, and getting to a health center if they are in need, is practically impossible.” Our CEO and president David Miliband released a special message on our response and how you can make a difference.