Strong adherence to handwashing and hygiene protocols is a major weapon in fighting the spread of the disease but, in countries where access to clean water is a struggle for people on a daily basis, this is not always an option.
The promotion of safe hygiene is one of the cornerstones of Concern’s work, making the arrival of this pandemic particularly worrying.
The first case in sub-Saharan Africa was confirmed in Nigeria in late February, with the World Health Organisation warning of an “extremely rapid evolution” of the virus – which is now present in 34 of Africa’s 54 countries.
While numbers are low at present, they are rising all the time.
More than 3,900 Concern staff are on high alert in the most vulnerable countries in the world in preparation to deal with the impact of COVID-19 and Chief Executive Dominic MacSorley says that the humanitarian aid sector is under no illusions about the threat posed by the outbreak.
“If COVID-19 strikes at scale where we work in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Caribbean, millions of lives will be at risk.”
Across the world, governments are putting measures in place aimed at slowing the rate of progress of COVID-19.
These include increased testing, and guidance on self-isolation for those who have either tested positive themselves or come into close contact with someone else who has the virus, as well as the rapid dissolution of planned public gatherings and events.
It was announced yesterday that schools in Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country with a population of over 20 million, are to close from Monday in an attempt to stifle the spread of the disease.
The death toll associated with the virus has been devastating, with more than 3,400 fatalities in Italy and 3,200 in China confirmed to date.
Given the impact of the disease on countries with strong health systems, this pandemic poses an even larger threat to densely populated countries who are already struggling with the impact of conflict, climate and malnutrition.
Anne believes that the number of cases in developing countries could be far higher than is currently being reported by the WHO, given the limited access to proper testing.
"There's limited access to testing, so the differential diagnosis between malaria, between flu, between your regular upper respiratory infections, and COVID-19, it's very difficult to get a full picture without consistent testing,” she says.
"The numbers of those infected may be much higher than indicated, but we don't know."
Concern has undertaken contingency planning in all of our countries of operation, and we are determined to carry on working for the world’s poorest people in the face of such difficult circumstances.
"The impact in most parts of Africa has not been huge as yet, but either there is under-reporting or we're just at the very beginning of the crisis there,” she explains.
“The effect of this on our global response in terms of flights, on access, on local government actions, in terms of movement of people is having an impact on our programmes."
Anne adds that while countries in Europe and the US are dealing with the local impact of the virus, a global response to support the most vulnerable is essential.
“It's understandable that we would want to manage it on our own doorstep first. However, there is a big world out there.”
How we act now will have a significant impact down the line, as countries face the uncertainty of massive economic upheaval. This is true of both European countries at the current epicentre of the outbreak, and those yet to experience the full force of COVID-19.
"We look at what's happening in Ireland, and we look at what's happening in Italy, and how the COVID virus has impacted on the health services of proportionately wealthy countries,” says Anne.
“Ireland is the third wealthiest country in the world, under the UN Human Development Index, and we are going to be stretched to the pin of our collar in managing it here."
This puts the potential impact on less wealthy countries into even greater perspective.