March 16, 2020 — With coronavirus spreading globally, and now confirmed in crisis-affected countries with International Rescue Committee (IRC) operations, like Afghanistan, Iraq, Burkina Faso and Venezuela, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is ramping up its response to the outbreak with a focus on crisis zones with especially weak health systems.
The IRC is providing life-saving programmes in countries threatened by the disease. We are working across three key areas: to mitigate and respond to the spread of coronavirus within vulnerable communities; protect IRC staff; and ensure the continuation of our life-saving programming as much as possible across more than 40 countries worldwide.
The International Rescue Committee is seeking US $30 million (£24 million) from the public, private sector, and governments to support preparedness and prevention efforts to combat the virus.
David MIliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said:
“Every member of the IRC family shares the concern of people in the hardest hit areas of the coronavirus outbreak. We send our sympathy to those who have already lost loved ones. At the same time, our priority for staff safety and frontline programme continuity is driven by the knowledge that while coronavirus is a serious threat where there is a health system, its dangers are magnified in communities where there is no such system. This is a global disease and can be expected to hit all parts of the world - it's imperative to protect the most vulnerable.
“Refugees, families displaced from their homes, and those living in crisis will be hit the hardest by this outbreak. COVID-19 will thrive in active war zones like Yemen and Syria, putting the lives of thousands of civilians in even more danger, and is another reason for ceasefires to be implemented. Displaced and vulnerable families are often confined to overcrowded camps or cities where a disease like this can spread rapidly through the close-knit population. As the world struggles to deal with the fallout of COVID-19 across its richest nations, the needs of the most vulnerable must not be neglected or forgotten.
“The IRC is scaling up our work in many places with weak health systems that are simply not prepared to deal with an outbreak of this scale. We need a major injection of funding to help us mitigate the spread of the disease across our programmes and ensure our life-saving work can continue to reach those in need. This is why we have launched a global appeal for US $30 million to support staff safety, programme continuity and frontline response to the virus. And this includes our work to support vulnerable communities across the US -- including refugees and other new Americans -- as they face the economic and health challenges ahead.”
The IRC has developed a comprehensive mitigation and response plan to protect our staff and vulnerable people we serve. Our first priority is to ensure the safety of our staff who are implementing humanitarian aid programmes around the world. We are equipping them with the knowledge and supplies needed to work safely and ensuring the organisation has the right policies and safeguards in place. Our second priority is to ensure that if and when the virus spreads to areas we operate in, our ongoing life-saving work can continue safely and without interruption as much as possible. And our third priority is to support containment efforts and mitigate the spread of the disease within communities.
We urgently need additional funding and support to put this plan into action across all areas of operation.
As a global organisation operating in over 40 countries around the world, this is a complex situation, with serious implications for those we serve. The IRC has set up a Coronavirus Leadership Team to oversee our response and planning. As a humanitarian organisation, the IRC is committed to doing all it can to continue services and support to the world’s most vulnerable, alongside prioritising the safety and wellbeing of IRC staff. In terms of finance and operations, the IRC is monitoring disruptions to supply chains, financing and programme costs, whilst working closely with partners and donors -- both government and private -- to raise money for the additional costs as a result of the global spread of coronavirus, and to meet new needs as they emerge.
Examples of IRC coronavirus response
- In Italy, the IRC is using our Refugee.Info platform, supported by Google and Twilio, to share COVID-19 information with refugees and vulnerable populations and ensure they know how to protect themselves, the signs and symptoms of the disease and where to seek support if they fall ill. 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 the disease for the National Disaster Management Authority to distribute to Pakistanis as part of their mass media awareness campaigns to inform and protect Pakistanis and mitigate spread.
- In Thailand, all IRC staff have been trained on the basics of COVID-19, and frontline health staff have received extensive training to identify suspected COVID-19 cases. We have also set up triage, screening and isolation units at health facilities within refugee camps, and are holding weekly meetings with refugee camp leadership on the situation and to inform them of preparedness and response activities.
- In the United States, IRC offices are following CDC and local guidance by informing staff and clients on best practices in personal hygiene and health, practicing social distancing, and canceling all non-essential travel, and switching to remote programming to the extent possible.
- In Seattle, case managers are creating health & hygiene kits for families at higher risk, as well as stocking up our emergency food supplies. We are helping clients adjust to changes to our programming by offering things like home study packets for students in our youth programmes and remote mentoring for youth and adults.
- In the IRC’s Bay Area office in California, staff have prepared emergency kits for newly arrived refugee families affected by self-isolation and quarantine measures, and are developing ways to offer remote education to families and groups using video tools and webinars.
- In Idaho, our Boise office has translated CDC’s COVID-19 guidance into 5 languages and shared it with partners and the community. IRC teams are running information sessions to demonstrate best practices in hygiene, communicating symptoms, when to go to report to medical personnel, and when to self-isolate.
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