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Catholic Relief Services is rapidly scaling up public health response around the world

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BALTIMORE, MARYLAND, April 15, 2020 – As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread around the world, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is rapidly expanding its health programs to ensure that local health facilities have the supplies and staff capacity to be on the frontline of the response. This work builds on CRS’ decades-long work, relationships and trust with local health ministries, national and local government agencies and health facilities, and faith-based health care networks in dozens of countries.

“CRS is well-positioned to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 through our strong relationships with a vast network of service providers and community-based groups that can reach the last mile during health emergencies,” said Sean Callahan, CRS CEO and president. “Our staff and partners have been a constant and trusted presence in some of the most vulnerable communities for more than 75 years and we are leveraging those relationships in times of an outbreak.”

CRS is part of a worldwide network of national and local Caritas partners, most of whom have expertise in public health, the provision of clinical health care, and emergency response. Well established health programming and relationships with local and national actors have allowed the organization to rapidly scale up to address the outbreak.

In Kenya, for example, CRS is supporting essential trainings on infection prevention and control measures to help the Nairobi health system contain COVID-19. CRS teams have been providing training to the health care workers and staff at the frontlines of potential hotspots in this health crisis.

In Ethiopia, staff have been procuring personal protective equipment (PPE) and isolation tents for Catholic health facilities.

In Gaza, CRS is drawing from its database of more than 3,000 nurses from its internship program to provide surge staffing to health facilities.

In countries like Cambodia that haven’t yet entered the most serious stage of transmission, CRS is working to get ahead of an uptick in cases by rolling out trainings in several provinces to better equip Ministry of Health staff.

“The better prepared local government staff and healthcare providers are now, the better the country will fare when cases increase,” said Liz Pfiffer, who directs CRS’ programming in Asia’s Mekong Delta region. “Rural Cambodians face enormous healthcare challenges normally, and we know that COVID could stretch the existing infrastructure beyond anything it’s faced in the last 20 years.”

CRS’ health programming has a large infectious disease portfolio focused on prevention, control, treatment and/or care of diseases like malaria, TB, Ebola, cholera, HIV and polio. In addition to supporting clinical services through local health partners, CRS also works to strengthen community health systems. CRS’ infectious disease work relies on data demand and information use and the organization assists local governments and partners to collect and use data to target responses to ever-changing epidemiological realities.

“Our COVID-19 response will draw upon our experience in acute health emergencies, such as the West African Ebola outbreak and prolonged crises like the HIV pandemic,” Callahan said. “Our work will be informed by the local context and focus on some of the most vulnerable communities.”

During the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, CRS quickly scaled up needed emergency interventions in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, including provision of supplies and infrastructure; logistics and operations; safe and dignified burials; awareness campaigns and the provision of food assistance.


Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding. For more information, visit or and follow Catholic Relief Services on social media in English at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube; and in Spanish at: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Nikki Gamer
Catholic Relief Services