The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, continues to spread globally and has reached countries with weak health systems that are less prepared to combat the disease.

Update Mar. 16, 2020: The International Rescue Committee is ramping up our response to the coronavirus outbreak with a focus on crisis zones with especially weak health systems.

People most at risk include the elderly, those who already have serious health conditions, and those who are displaced from their homes by crisis and living in overcrowded conditions without access to clean water or medical care.

“We know coronavirus doesn’t respect borders and that it hits the vulnerable hardest, those with weak health systems,” says International Rescue Committee president and CEO David Miliband. “So people living in conflict-affected countries are at considerably greater risk.”

This new virus 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.

We know Coronavirus doesn’t respect borders and that it hits the vulnerable hardest, those with weak health systems.

Past MERS and SARS outbreaks have been complex, requiring countries to launch comprehensive public health responses. But countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, where conflict or crisis have destroyed clinics and hospitals and weakened health systems, have little chance to effectively to combat the disease without support. 

What needs to be done to stop Coronavirus?

Countries in crisis, like those where the IRC works, need international assistance to strengthen their capacity to rapidly detect the coronavirus, respond, and prevent further transmission of the disease. This includes helping countries invest in strong surveillance to detect the disease; efficient infection prevention and control at health clinics; an increase in protective gear, medical supplies and drugs; training of health workers to be able to identify, isolate and treat the symptoms of the disease; and outreach to communities so that people have the knowledge and resources to protect themselves and prevent the transmission of the virus.


What is the IRC doing to combat Coronavirus?

The physical health and safety of our staff, our clients and our communities is the IRC’s top priority globally. We are providing assistance to people living in crisis in coronavirus-affected countries, and in some instances, cases are already within our areas of operation. We are working to train staff worldwide on the virus so that they can be cognisant of their own health and protect themselves. We are also putting a plan in place to ensure that, even if and when the virus spreads more widely in the areas we operate in, our ongoing lifesaving work can continue safely, as much as possible.

The IRC is also supporting local efforts to contain the virus and further reduce the impact of the outbreak within these communities. We are working to ensure people are aware of how to protect themselves from the disease and know where to seek support if they become ill.

In Italy, the IRC is using our platform to share COVID-19 information with refugees and vulnerable populations. The first COVID-19 blog post reached 70,000 people, with 10,500 interacting with the information.

In Pakistan, the IRC worked with other agencies to develop key information about COVID-19 for the National Disaster Management Authority as part of their mass media awareness campaigns to inform and protect Pakistanis.

In Afghanistan, the IRC is increasing the number of hand-washing stations around our programming sites and distributing key information about the disease to the communities we serve.

In Thailand, the IRC has set up triage, screening and isolation units at health facilities within refugee camps. We are also working with the ministry of health to secure protective gear and supplies for frontline health workers within the refugee camps.

In the United States and Europe, the IRC is also prepared to respond if the coronavirus arrives among communities where we work, whether in neighborhoods with families arriving from warzones, or along the routes that people take to flee crisis. Our offices serving refugees, asylum seekers and local communities are strictly following public local public health guidance, with even more intensive guidance for the harder-hit communities we serve, such as in Seattle and Italy.

Learn more about our health work around the world.

What can you do to support our work?

The IRC responds to the world’s worst crises, helping people whose lives have been upended by war, conflict and natural disasters to survive, recover and rebuild their lives.