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Social distancing and hand-washing are herculean tasks for world’s poorest communities

Publication date
  • Tearfund launches appeal to step up hygiene and education work in response to coronavirus

  • Faith leaders, trusted by their communities, will play a vital role

  • Experience gained during Ebola crisis will inform response

Maintaining a distance from others and practising good hand hygiene is a herculean task for many of the world’s poorest communities, says Christian international development agency Tearfund, as it launches an appeal for funds to step up its work in response to coronavirus.

‘We are very concerned about some of the poorest countries, where life is already difficult and there is little infrastructure to deal with coronavirus,’ says Jane Pleace, Tearfund’s Global Fundraising Director. ‘Living in a crowded household in a densely populated community, such as a refugee camp, and having to walk a long way for water, makes it much harder for people to take apparently simple measures such as social distancing and increased handwashing. These become incredibly hard asks, piled on top of an already challenging daily life.’

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, home to almost a million Rohingya, is the largest refugee camp in the world, with an average population density of at least six times that of Wuhan, China*, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. ‘Sanitation and hygiene facilities in the camp are already inadequate and the streets are narrow and crowded, so social distancing is extremely difficult, and currently there aren’t enough hand-washing facilities,’ says Sudarshan Kodooru, Tearfund’s Country Director in Bangladesh. ‘Tearfund is working both in the camps and in the host communities around, distributing leaflets about handwashing, distancing and recognising symptoms, and giving out hygiene kits containing soap, sanitiser and detergent powder, as well as installing 200 community washing facilities and giving food to those in quarantine.’

Rita Rani Bala and her family, who live in a village near the camp, survive on the very low income from her husband’s work as a street trader. The lockdown in Bangladesh, currently in force until 5 May, has halted not only his ability to work, but that of their nine neighbouring households, most of whom support themselves through day labour. ‘We need these hygiene items very badly for keeping us safe and secured,’ they said,’but we have no ability to purchase them at this moment.’

Rita’s community has received hygiene kits from Tearfund’s local partner, along with information on how to use the items to keep themselves safe from coronavirus. ‘We have never used hand sanitizer in our life, but now we are afraid to hear about the coronavirus and its contagious nature,’ they said, adding ‘now we will continue our hand-washing using soaps and hand sanitizer, and keep our households neat and clean.’

Around the world Tearfund is carrying out targeted hygiene promotion and education often via social media, constructing taps and water tanks, distributing essential hygiene kits and improving sanitation, distributing food to vulnerable people, and responding to psychosocial needs, as well as delivering emergency aid to the most vulnerable people and their communities. Tearfund is supporting its locally based partners and churches to respond to this pandemic, working in all the countries where it has a presence, to minimise the risk of infection.

‘We know from our experience working in the Ebola crisis in West Africa that faith leaders play a vital role in conveying public health messages to communities,’ Jane Pleace said, ‘so where possible, we’re working with church partners to promote the right messages to prevent the spread of coronavirus and to correct any lies and misinformation about the disease. Faith leaders are trusted and known members of their communities to whom people naturally turn for advice, support and information.’

Tearfund’s hygiene training guidelines have already gone out to 250 partners, which will benefit almost 15,000 local churches and their wider communities. Resources are continually being developed, translated and published on Tearfund Learn. The charity is also in close contact with other humanitarian organisations to ensure they are drawing on the experience of the wider community, as well as coordinating to reach as many vulnerable communities as possible.

Tearfund's supporters are already offering to raise money for this vital work through our challenge The Climb as well as incredible fundraisers like 8-year-old Grace Jarvis who used her tap dancing skills to do sponsored ‘Taps for Tearfund’, raising over £1,500. ‘I feel really proud’ she said after the event which saw her tap dancing 32 times up and down her road, a total of 2.6 km. She chose to support Tearfund ‘so people can wash their hands,’ and hinted that the first person she would tell of her success would probably be ‘Miss Debbie, because she’s my tap teacher.’

To make a donation in support of Tearfund’s work responding to coronavirus around the world, please visit


*'A risk report on the possibility of the spread of the coronavirus in the Cox’s Bazar camps produced in March by ACAPS, a Norwegian humanitarian-analysis group, found that the population density in the camps averages 40,000 people per square kilometer, but increases to 70,000 in the most cramped areas. By comparison, ACAPS said, the overall population density in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, is 6,000 people per square kilometer.' [Source The Atlantic, quoting ]

For further information or to interview Jane Pleace or Sudarshan Kodooru please contact:

Mondays to Wednesdays: Louise Thomas, media officer on 07590 775847

Thursdays & Fridays: Oliver Needham, media officer, on 07929 353530 or

or contact Tearfund Media Team on**. For out of hours media enquiries please call 07929 339813. **

A donation of £30 could provide 10 families with sanitizing products like soap and bleaching powder for one month. £45 could provide 30 days’ food for one person in quarantine.

Tearfund is a Christian relief and development agency and a member of the Disasters’ Emergency Committee. Tearfund has been working around the world for more than 50 years responding to disasters and helping lift communities out of poverty. For more information about the work of Tearfund, please visit

Tearfund Learn is a website enabling public access to and downloading of Tearfund’s educational materials:

Grace Taps for Tearfund: