What you need to know

As the world struggles to deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, the needs of the most vulnerable must not be neglected or forgotten. "The Coronavirus is not just a problem for rich countries: we are only as strong as our weakest health system," says IRC president and CEO David Miliband. Learn more about the coronavirus and the IRC's global response.

What is the coronavirus?

The novel (new) coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a virus that causes flu-like illness and can spread from person to person. It was first discovered in December 2019 in a seafood market in Wuhan, China. COVID-19 is in the same virus family as SARS and MERS.

Who is most at risk from the coronavirus?

As COVID-19 spreads globally, people living in conflict zones will be hit hardest. In countries like Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq, years of violent conflict have weakened health systems and shut down medical facilities, putting millions of people at increased risk.

Refugees and recently displaced people also tend to have a higher rate of underlying health issues due to the impacts of war, disease and famine, making them more susceptible to illness.

In addition, IRC analysis reveals people living in refugee camps in Syria, Greece and Bangladesh face a heightened risk of COVID-19 owing to conditions that are even more cramped and densely populated than those onboard the Diamond Princess—the cruise ship where the virus spread four times faster than in Wuhan at the peak of that city’s coronavirus outbreak. Data journalist and illustrator Mona Chalabi helped us bring that critical information to life:

“Refugees do not have the luxury of social distancing,” says Bob Kitchen, who is leading the IRC's COVID-19 response. “But we can promote safety in camps by increasing the supply of fresh water, and the number of hand-washing stations, infection control points and public health communications. This is where the IRC comes in.”

What is the IRC doing to fight the coronavirus?

The IRC's global response to the coronavirus pandemic focuses on reaching the most vulnerable people where we work.

For our country programs and offices across the world, we have created a real-time risk categorization index and response plan. This is paired with ongoing efforts to keep staff and communities safe with the proper knowledge and supplies while delivering lifesaving care.

These are just a few of the things the IRC is doing to respond to COVID-19:

  • Continuing to provide essential health care services to refugees and displaced people
  • Sharing vital coronavirus information with refugees through our "SignPost" online platforms that can be accessed on a mobile phone
  • Conducting information sessions to demonstrate best practices in hygiene, handwashing, communicating symptoms, when to go to report to medical personnel, and when to self-isolate
  • Demonstrating proper handwashing techniques and other ways people can protect themselves
  • Training health workers on how to use personal protective equipment to keep themselves safe
  • Delivering food and medicine to refugees while following heightened safety measures
  • Setting up a health call center for refugees run by doctors and nurses
  • Installing more hand-washing stations in shelters for migrants
  • Equipping aid workers with surgical face masks and other essential protective equipment
  • Printing, translating into multiple languages, and distribute informational materials approved by the World Health Organization and national health authorities to communities in the U.S. and worldwide
  • Building the health capacities of local aid organizations through our COVID-19 Risk and Response plan and staff health experts
  • Sharing our COVID-19 Risk and Response plan with other aid organizations that might not have health experts available
  • Distributing health and hygiene kits for families at higher risk

Go inside our global coronavirus response.


What still needs to be done?

As new COVID-19 variants such as Omicron emerge, it’s more important than ever that world leaders address the triple emergency of COVID, conflict and climate change that is wreaking havoc

Countries in crisis need immediate international assistance, including COVID-19 vaccines and supplies for detecting, preventing and treating the coronavirus. This will become increasingly difficult as governments continue to close borders and restrict travel to mitigate the spread of the disease.

How can I help?

The IRC urgently needs funding and support for our scaled-up response. “Our teams are doing an amazing job – but they need to do an even bigger job,” says IRC president and CEO David Miliband. “And for that, we need your help.”

COVID-19 will not be beaten anywhere until it is beaten everywhere, including among the most vulnerable.

Help us reach families in coronavirus-affected areas and more than 40 countries worldwide by making a donation.