The COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful reminder of the world’s inequalities, with the world’s most vulnerable being the hardest hit. Refugees are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19, being left behind from receiving vaccinations and facing significant economic and social challenges associated with the pandemic. Along the Thailand-Myanmar border, over 83,000 refugees living in 9 camps were at high risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and bearing a disproportionately greater brunt of the pandemic. 

When the pandemic was at its peak in Thailand, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) partnered to scale up existing health services for refugees living in camps along the border with Myanmar. This included renovating and upgrading community isolation treatment wards, implementing COVID-19 transmission mitigation measures in existing health facilities, providing psychosocial support through home visits, awareness raising around minimizing the spread of COVID-19 and administration of vaccines to refugees across all 9 camps. Throughout the project, over 6,000 patients were treated for COVID-19 and vaccines were administered to 30,933 refugees.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a disproportionate impact on women and girls, a key consideration for this project. Throughout the project, the patient treatment wards were gender segregated in line with cultural norms and all data collected was gender segregated. A separate delivery room for pregnant women who had tested positive for COVID-19 was set up - a total of 8 pregnant women infected with COVID-19 were able to access safe prenatal, delivery and post-natal care at health facilities inside the refugee camps. 

The unrestricted nature of the funding received for this project from AVPN was particularly valuable, as it allowed the team in Thailand to maximize reach and impact. With funding from AVPN, the IRC set up and operated five community clinics to ensure refugees’ access to health care and continuation of appropriate treatment during the outbreak. U Pin Nyar, a diabetic patient, said

“During the COVID-19 outbreak, I could not go to the IRC’s health facility since there was a movement restriction inside the camp. I received information from the health service provider about two- and three-months medication supplies. I was also informed that I could get medicine from community clinics which were open during the peak period of the COVID-19 outbreak in Mae La camp.” 

Due to the uncertain and volatile nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, having maximum flexibility and trust from AVPN allowed the project team to deliver timely life-saving services in a volatile context.