COVID-19: the report on our global response
The COVID-19 pandemic involved all the countries in which INTERSOS operates, accentuating the needs determined by the already existing humanitarian crises and producing new ones, in particular related to the fragility of the local social and health systems.
The number of cases is growing
The spread of the virus has not stopped, rather it continues to grow. Due to the strong limitations of health systems and the ability to perform tests, official numbers do not often represent the situation we observe on the field. But the reports we receive from our colleagues highlight the impact of the pandemic in contexts of extreme vulnerability, with the risk that an emergency will be added to an emergency.
In particular in Yemen, the spread of the virus is seriously affecting health structures already severely damaged by five years of conflict. In Afghanistan, the main hospital in Kandahar is overcrowded and under pressure, while the breakdown of machinery and the contagion of the majority of technicians has interrupted the ability to carry out tests. The evolution of the crisis is also worrying in some African countries such as Somalia and South Sudan.
Concern about limited local responsiveness
In the entire African continent, according to WHO data, there are only 2,000 oxygen ventilators. An example that attracted the headlines in the international press concerns South Sudan, where the number of vice-presidents (5) is greater than that of ventilators (4). In countries experiencing protracted humanitarian crises such as Somalia and the Central African Republic, tests can only be carried out in one authorized center in the capital, respectively Mogadishu and Bangui. Even in a relatively more advanced country such as Cameroon, there are only 5 laboratories for testing. These are only examples, but which make the idea of how wide the perception of the pandemic can be in countries affected by humanitarian crises compared to the richest countries in the world.
For this reason, alongside official statistics, less scientific, but extremely relevant indicators are carefully observed, such as the increase in the number of funerals. The inability to take charge of a large number of serious cases makes it essential to invest maximum efforts in prevention: from the spread of correct hygiene and health practices to the isolation of suspected cases. This is what INTERSOS medical teams, engaged with mobile clinics and supporting local health facilities, have been doing since the beginning of the emergency.
Secondary effects of the pandemic
In countries affected by humanitarian crises, the side effects of the pandemic, those not directly related to the spread of the virus, can have a devastating impact. The suffering of health facilities is likely to facilitate the epidemic spread of other diseases, such as dengue, cholera and malaria. Due to the limitations on the movement of people and goods, especially in areas that largely depend on humanitarian aid, there is a generalized increase in food insecurity. The isolation and interruption of school programs affects the safety of women and children, more easily exposed to abuse and psychological trauma. For this reason, the holistic approach to protection that characterizes INTERSOS programs remains central in responding to this emergency.
Wars don’t stay at home
International calls for a ceasefire in conflict areas have been largely overlooked. Despite unilateral declarations and attempts at respite, in all areas of conflict in which INTERSOS operates, fightings have continued and, in some cases, such as in the area of Lake Chad, northern Iraq and Afghanistan, armed groups have seized the opportunity of the pandemic to intensify their activity. Despite the clashes and pandemic prevention measures have limited humanitarian access to people in need, all INTERSOS missions immediately activated extraordinary measures to ensure the continuity of humanitarian action, while ensuring full staff safety, both local and international.
INTERSOS response to the coronavirus emergency immediately moved in two directions: ensuring the continuity of ongoing humanitarian projects and identifying new specific interventions to support the response to the pandemic. In particular, the new interventions follow two objectives: the control of the pandemic (interventions for prevention and support to local health systems); the response to the secondary effects of the emergency (protection interventions and support to the living conditions of people affected by humanitarian crises). The ongoing interventions in the areas of health, access to water and hygiene (WASH – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and protection have been adapted to the new conditions.
The ongoing activities in our Missions
In the African continent, in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Niger, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Libya, ongoing protection monitoring and case management interventions have included awareness raising activities and information on pandemic, training of staff and local communities, distribution of hygiene kits.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a new project has been launched to train medical personnel and support local health facilities.
In Central African Republic, a project dedicated to access to water and hygiene in the prefecture of Ouham and a project dedicated to the improvement of general living conditions (housing conditions, hygiene, access to primary goods) in the displaced camps of Batangafo have been launched.
In Nigeria, prevention activities are accompanied by a strong commitment by INTERSOS in the primary health sector. The activities of the primary health centers and clinics supported by INTERSOS in Borno State have included new initiatives for training of health personnel, health surveillance, triage, waste management and safe management of linen, environmental decontamination and risk communication to patients. INTERSOS participates in the national referral system of critical cases: an ambulance has been dedicated to the transport of suspect cases to the medical centers of Magumeri and Bama. Areas of isolation and treatment of suspect cases have been identified in all the healthcare facilities where we are present.
In Somalia, INTERSOS has been supporting Jowhar hospital in the Middle-Shabelle region for 27 years. Here too, preventive measures have been introduced for health personnel and patients, specific training for health workers, and identification of triage paths and of isolation areas, while projects for access to water and to hygiene have been strengthened and extended in other areas of the country.
In the Middle East, all protection programs have been strengthened and adapted. In particular, in Lebanon, INTERSOS is engaged in the identification and restructuring of over 30 isolation areas dedicated to Syrian refugees who live in informal settlements present in many areas of the country, in the distribution of hygiene kits, in support of Syrian refugee families in difficulty due to the economic and employment crisis accentuated by the pandemic. Attention to pandemic prevention among Syrian refugees also characterizes the emergency adaptation of INTERSOS projects in Greece and Jordan.
In Yemen, INTERSOS is at the forefront of the health response to the expansion of the pandemic, operating in the North and South of the country in support of local health facilities and with mobile teams to reach the most remote areas.
In Syria, INTERSOS collaborates in the strategy defined by Syrian Arab Red Crescent in the areas of prevention and control of the spread of the virus and of case management, guaranteeing the adaptation and preparation of local health structures and distributing essential health material and medicines.
In Iraq, INTERSOS supports 10 health facilities in the Ninewa governorate. The activities already carried out concern the training of local health personnel, the distribution of health materials and medicines, and the information of patients and participants in other protection activities promoted by our organization.
In Afghanistan, INTERSOS directly supports 3 primary health centers. Our mobile medical teams, engaged in difficult-to-access rural areas, have emphasized the attention to the spread of respiratory diseases and strengthened the information of local communities; access to water and hygiene activities focused on virus prevention, also with the distribution of hygiene kits; the protection teams continued their work, devoting the utmost attention to social distancing, and increasing the handling of cases of gender-based violence and child protection.
Finally, in Venezuela, we guarantee training to medical staff on prevention and response measures to COVID-19 and support a protection center for women victims of abuse in the city of San Cristòbal.