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New Red Cross Red Crescent analysis shows deep inequalities in COVID-19 response across Middle East and North Africa

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Beirut, 8 April 2021 (IFRC) – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is seeking “urgent and sizeable investment” to ensure the region’s pandemic response leaves no one behind.

While no one has been spared from the effects of COVID-19, the consequences of this pandemic have not been equally felt. This crisis has been defined by profound and persistent inequities both in terms of who is most at risk, and how the world has responded.

New analysis released today by the IFRC highlights significant inequalities in COVID-19 vaccination rates across the MENA region. According to this analysis:

  • Less than 5 per cent of vaccine doses administered in MENA Region have been administered in the eight countries facing severe or very severe humanitarian crises.

  • Only a third (37 per cent) of doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in MENA Region have been reported administered in countries experiencing any type of humanitarian crisis, whether conflict, complex emergencies, displacement, or others.

  • Among MENA countries that have administered any vaccine doses, the country reporting the most doses per capita, UAE, reports having administered 510 times more doses per capita than Algeria.

Hossam Khalil Elsharkawi, Regional Director of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), said:

“The Middle East and North Africa hosts some of the world’s most protracted humanitarian crises. This analysis shows that people in these settings are more likely than the general population to be infected, are more likely to die once infected, and are least likely to be appropriately supported through the response, including through vaccination campaigns.

“While there is clearly a growing recognition of the importance of equitable vaccine access, this is not yet translating into investment in all the systems that are needed to turn this ambition into a reality. The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement plan focuses on reaching the last mile and ensuring that no one is left behind. To continue to play this role, we need urgent and sizeable investment.”

Many countries in MENA are now rolling out COVID-19 vaccination as a pathway to end the acute phase of the pandemic. Fifteen out of a total of 17 countries have now administered at least one dose, with more than 25 million doses having been administered mainly in Gulf countries. However, for middle- and low-income countries, the vaccine procurement and vaccination roll-out rely fully on international cooperation and support that will take some time to cover (or reach) all priority populations and the last mile populations (migrants, refugees, IDPs).

The analysis also finds deep inequalities in broader COVID-19 health measures in the region:

  • The least developed countries in MENA (as measured by the Human Development Index – HDI) have carried out the fewest tests per capita. Among MENA countries reporting testing data, countries with a “very high” HDI reported having carried out eight times (863 per cent) more tests per capita than countries with a Medium Human Development Index. (There is no testing data available for the one MENA country with “Low” HDI).

  • While half (50 per cent) of MENA countries facing “no crisis” have contact tracing available, the same is true in only 20 per cent of MENA countries facing any type of crisis, whether displacement, conflict, political/economic, or other.

This regional analysis comes following the launch of a new International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement plan that aims to tackle “deep and pervasive” inequities in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has been at the frontline of the pandemic response. The revised International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement plan is designed to counter some of the more severe inequities by expanding care, treatment and support for people in all countries, including those affected by humanitarian crises such as conflict and disasters. The plan also includes a range of measures designed to support and extend COVID-19 immunization campaigns so that marginalized and isolated groups can access vaccines.

In all, the revised International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement appeal seeks 2.729 billion Swiss francs, with 274 million earmarked for the MENA region.

To read the revised Movement plan, visit the Covid-19 emergency page.

Notes to editors

The analysis of where vaccines have been administered; the relative reach of testing; and which countries carry out full, partial or no contact tracing is based on Oxford University’s ‘Our World in Data’ (latest available data used) and the INFORM Severity Index – an inter-agency tool that measures the severity of humanitarian crises and disasters globally (January 2021 data used).

For a full list of countries listed against crisis severity, visit INFORM Severity index. All datasets have some gaps.

Media contacts

For more information, please contact:

In UK: Matthew Carter, Communications Coordinator, COVID-19, +44 7557 802 463, matthew.carter@ifrc.org

In Beirut: Rana Sidani Cassou, Regional Communications Manager, +961 71 80 2779, Rana.CASSOU@ifrc.org