March 25, 2020 — As the United Nations launches a nearly $2 billion Humanitarian Response Plan to counter the global public health and humanitarian consequences of COVID-19, David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said:
“Today’s United Nations appeal is a welcome and much-needed first step to mobilizing the international community to fight the common threat of Coronavirus head on. The pandemic is a powerful reminder of two things: the shared challenges of our global village, and the deep inequalities we must grapple with to fight them. Coronavirus is not just a problem for rich countries: we are only as strong as our weakest health system. Without the response of a global immune system, this global infection will not be stamped out.
"The consequences of this virus going unchecked in the weakest corners of the world cannot be overstated. Handwashing, social isolation and consulting a health centre are nearly impossible in overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh or in tents in Northwest Syria. One needs only look at the scale and persistence of cholera in Yemen to understand the complexity and consequences therein of an outbreak like COVID-19.
"Organisations like the IRC have deep experience fighting international public health emergencies, whether it be Ebola, Cholera or Tuberculosis. Immediate and sustained international action and deliberate engagement with affected communities are essential to bringing an outbreak of this scale under control. Time is our only ally in preventing a truly global infiltration of this virus -- and there is none left to waste.
"The key now is for donors to urgently put flexible funding behind the appeal and other frontline efforts -- like the IRC’s -- to combat the virus in the world’s most vulnerable places, and to support nascent UN efforts to ensure a consistent supply of tests, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other critical equipment reaches those most in need.
"Beyond funding, the need for diplomatic leadership to bring the virus to heel has never been more obvious. Governments should heed the call of the UN Secretary General for a global ceasefire: the longer bombs are dropping and civilians are forced to flee, the more fertile the ground for this virus to spread. There must also be increased humanitarian access: in places like Syria, where the health system has been hollowed out by war and the first COVID case was just confirmed on Monday, the UN Security Council must take action to ensure that cross-border access is maintained especially given the urgent need for health supplies.
"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 lives of millions of people, including the 70 million already fleeing their homes due to conflict and disaster, are now in even further danger. And far from extinguishing the threat, if we ignore the world’s most vulnerable we risk multiplying it."