Beirut, 02 August 2021 – The International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the Middle East and North Africa, is concerned that the increasing COVID-19 transmissions in the region could spark a domino effect with catastrophic health, social and economic impacts, unless vaccination rollouts are stepped up and protection measures reinforced.
Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia reported the greatest number of new cases in the past weeks, with Tunisia reporting the greatest increase in new reported deaths. Concerns for the future are mounting as variants continue to spread, health systems are on the verge of collapse and the vaccination rates in the Middle East and North Africa region continue to lag dangerously behind.
Dr Haytham Qosa, Head of IFRC MENA Health Unit, said: “Leaving countries behind on vaccines will only serve to prolong the pandemic, not just in the region, but globally. Many countries are facing other vulnerabilities, including conflict, natural disasters, water shortages, displacement, and other disease outbreaks. This makes people even more vulnerable to the devastating impacts of COVID-19. This alone should be a reason enough for global solidarity to ensure equitable vaccine access in the region. At a global level, vaccine equity is key to reducing the likelihood of variants and saving lives by limiting the spread of the virus. This is the only way we can truly end this pandemic.”
The Red Cross Red Crescent staff and volunteers have been on the frontline of the COVID-19 response since the outset. IFRC has been supporting the Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies in MENA with:
• Efforts to accelerate vaccination campaigns in support of the national vaccination plans.
• Provision of cash assistance, food parcels, hygiene kits, and masks to affected people.
• Provision of medical supplies including oxygen concentrators, ventilators & generators, and PPEs to local health authorities
• Monitoring of the vaccination campaigns for quality, standards, fairness and equity
• Technical support with risk communication and community engagement.
Despite lofty rhetoric about global solidarity in terms of vaccine equity, there is a deadly gap in the global plan to equitably distribute COVID-19 vaccines. In MENA region, only 10 doses per 100 people have been administered in many countries, including Libya, Algeria, Egypt, and Iraq. In Syria and Yemen, there has been less than one dose per 100 people1.
Dr Hosam Faysal, Head of IFRC MENA Disasters, Climate and Crises Unit, coordinating the IFRC response to COVID-19, said: “The new waves of the pandemic remind us that the battle against it is unfortunately not yet over. However, it also highlights the critical role of the our Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers as trusted local actors who are able to quickly response to new surges of cases. Across the region they are working tirelessly to support health system, help protect communities and ensure vaccines make it into arms of the most vulnerable. But without more vaccines, there cannot be vaccinations.”
Notes to Editors
In the past 4 weeks, we see a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections. In response to the latest peak, the Algerian Red Crescent (ARCS) has scaled up the COVID-19 activities quickly once the numbers climbed up to alarming level but the situation is far from over. More than 2 million people have already been vaccinated by ARCS doctors and nurses not only in cities but also in remote areas. Many vaccinations centers have been opened recently to reach the national target set by authorities to reach 20 million people by the end of 2021.
More than 20.000 ARCS volunteers are fully active: • Supporting authorities in the vaccination campaigns. • Distribution 2 million masks since the start of the pandemic and 100.000 hygiene kits for families living in remote areas. • Providing Oxygen concentrators to hospitals in the “hot Spot” areas.
In the past weeks, Tunisia registered its highest number of daily COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic as the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads and vaccine availability remains low. The health care system is struggling to cope especially the intensive care departments that are full and doctors overburdened by a rapid outbreak of cases and deaths. Tunisia has one of the highest per capita death rates in the world. Vaccinations have been slow. As of 29 July 2021 and according to WHO, of the 11.7 million population, 1.677446 million were vaccinated with at least one shot (14.1% ) whereas 934.004 ( 7.9% ) are fully vaccinated.
The Tunisian Red Crescent as auxiliary body to the public authorities has been scaling up its response to the increased humanitarian needs and focusing on supporting the health system in country with risk communication campaigns, homecare provision of Oxygen concentrators as well as the provision of PPEs such as masks and other materials to front-line health workers.
3000 volunteers deployed from 24 branches all over the country continue raising awareness campaigns, helping population registering on the E-Vax platform especially the elderly, migrants and people in most distant rural areas, providing at the same time food and hygiene kits assistance. In almost all vaccination centers, TRC volunteers assist health workers in checking registration, appointments, and onsite immediate post vaccination monitoring.
In the past two weeks, the IFRC, Qatar Red Crescent and Kuwait Red Crescent have shipped more than ten tons of medical equipment, including oxygen concentrators, ventilators, personal protective equipment and sanitizer to the Tunisian Red Crescent.
TRC has reached 10 million people since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak by raising awareness campaigns in public places and institutions, conducting screening and triage, and managing queues in front of public facilities and vaccination centres.
There is a sharp increase in cases in the past 4 weeks. 40% increase in the number of COVID-19 infections in week 29 compared to the previous week. As of 14 July, only 27% of the population is fully vaccinated.
The Moroccan Red Crescent has mobilized more than 2000 volunteers to support the vaccination campaigns alongside MRCS doctors and nurses. In addition, 5000 volunteers are active in 75 branches all over the country to sensitize the population about the importance of vaccine and reinforce the respect of risk communication messages. In support from IFRC, MRCS distributes food, medicines, hygiene items, masks to communicates in urban settings an in remote areas reaching at least 190,000 households.
The pandemic is affecting the mental health of the population. 150 volunteers trained on psychosocial first aid, manage the hotline to listen to community, provide emotional first aid, receive requests for medicines, food, etc.
The COVID-19 pandemic is adding another layer of crisis on years of armed conflict in Libya that has led to a weakened health care system, a dire economic situation, a lack of basic services and serious humanitarian conditions suffered by migrants transiting to through the Mediterranean. Libya is currently witnessing an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, where on the 13th of July it recorded its highest daily rate of COVID 19 infections with 2,679 new cases, a 161% increase compared to the previous week. With the low rate of vaccination, these concerning figures promises a serious wave that can further shatter the country. To combat this wave, Libya has imposed new precautionary measures to curb infection rates that included the closure of the borders with neighbouring Tunisia on the 8th of July, the closure of coffee shops and restaurants, the banning of weddings and funerals and the halting of public transportation for two weeks.
The Libyan Red Crescent Society (LRCS), in coordination with IFRC, has been supporting host communities and migrants with food, hygiene items, health services, child protection, Humanitarian Service Points for Migrants and the engagement in Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) activities around COVID-19 prevention and the importance of immunization against the disease The LRCS is playing a key role in managing vaccination sites all over Libya with the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). The LRCS has directly reached 35,500 persons in its response to COVID-19 through support from the IFRC.
For more information
Rana Sidani Cassou: Head of Communications, IFRC MENA