The COVID-19 pandemic (or coronavirus) is unprecedented in recent history and is spreading rapidly. It is not only a public health crisis, but also a humanitarian crisis in the making.
In war-torn countries, COVID-19 represents a dramatic threat to life. Health systems have already been ravaged by violence, and the threat of further strain on health care from the coronavirus is an enormous risk for communities.
Plans to prevent and respond to the virus must urgently move forward before it gains a foothold in countries in conflict.
COVID-19 does not have to be catastrophic for countries with weakened health care systems. But it does require the international community to take immediate action to scale up resources – funding, medical supplies, equipment and staff – to avoid the worst and save lives.
The humanitarian aid we provide on the frontlines is essential to saving lives during this crisis. The ICRC's unique value in many countries is its access to areas of conflict that other organizations may not have. This allows us to assist in responding to an outbreak in hard to reach war-torn areas. We will work closely with Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies to support their activities and include them in our own.
The ICRC addresses health concerns in conflict zones in a multi-disciplinary manner: water and sanitation teams work to increase access to clean water in dozens of areas affected by crises, including prisons. Soap is included in the assistance packages given to families fleeing violence.
The ICRC will focus its efforts on continuing and increasing its support to public health services in contexts affected by armed conflict and violence. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have developed an emergency plan to ensure continuity in the most critical hospitals we support around the globe. This means increasing stocks of essential medical supplies and putting in place or reinforcing contingency plans and infection prevention and control measures in hospitals that are highly dependent on ICRC support.
Our support to hospitals in conflict zones includes donating supplies and equipment, financial support and staff training. We support infrastructure works to expand hospital capacity, ensure a stable water supply and proper waste management, and improve overall medical service delivery. We'll provide advice, guidance and standards to authorities to prevent and control the outbreak.
We stand ready to extend this support to other medical facilities on an ad hoc basis in the case of an escalation of violence or an outbreak of disease. At the same time, we are grappling with how we will continue to deliver the services that people in conflict zones the world over already rely on in a way that is responsible—both for our staff's well-being and to not further the spread of disease.
In many places of detention around the world, the ICRC works together with relevant authorities to strengthen standard practices such as the medical screening of new arrivals and the setting up of prevention measures -- such as hand washing stations -- for detainees, visitors, guards and delivery personnel. We also support disinfection measures, such as fumigation campaigns and distribute soap and other hygiene and cleaning materials to detainees.
We know from experience that these sanitation measures, like hand-washing stations, work as we have seen them prevent the spread and entry of Ebola and cholera into places of detention.
COVID-19 response scaling up in urgent contexts
In Afghanistan and Myanmar, ICRC's work in prisons and in support of health systems is focusing on COVID-19 preparedness, detection, and preventive procedures. We are also creating a rapid response plan with isolation measures, hygiene improvement and protective materials.
In Burkina Faso, we are running radio spots with information on COVID-19 and how it can be prevented. We continue to improve access to clean water and soap in areas affected by violence, and distribute soap and gel in places of detention.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we are helping the hospitals we support to set up quarantine measures, training health care staff in suspected case isolation, and implementing infection prevention control measures in health facilities and places of detention visited by the ICRC.
In El Salvador, we are distributing soap to detainees to assist with hand washing to stop the spread of the disease.
In Gaza, the ICRC has donated 500 mattresses and 1,000 blankets upon a request from the authorities to help accommodate people in quarantine. It has also donated 43 infrared thermometers to health authorities to help screening suspected cases.
In Iraq, we have donated soap and disinfectant, protective equipment like gloves, goggles and gowns and thermometers to 13 places of detention housing 22,000 detainees. We'll soon donate to another 11 institutions holding 20,000 detainees. We're also providing materials for handwashing points and chlorine spray.
In Mexico, the ICRC and Mexican Red Cross are distributing water, hygiene kits and information on the virus to help prevent its spread.
In Lebanon, the ICRC runs an emergency ward at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital -- where COVID-19 cases are being treated.
In Somalia, we provided tents for isolation to the Mogadishu hospital we support and are implementing a surveillance system to monitor suspected cases at clinics supported by the Somali Red Crescent. We are also providing hygiene items in places of detention and giving soap, chlorine tabs and hygiene information on COVID-19 to more than 120,000 households.
In Syria, in Al Hol Camp, our field hospital remains operational and our team has started to take all necessary and preventive measures to protect the patients against COVID-19.