In countries such as Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the same channels of community mobilisation and hygiene sensitisation that were used to fight the Ebola virus are now being used to channel messaging on COVID-19.
This week, our Concern teams distributed soap, detergent, and hygiene kits to 84,000 displaced people in camps in northern Iraq; improved basic water systems and distributed safety masks in the prisons of Afghanistan; drilled wells in the Central African Republic, and intensified public information ‘wash your hands’ campaigns of COVID-19 in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Malawi.
In Niger, we are converting Concern vehicles into temporary ambulances. In the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, we have initiated social distancing and hand sanitation at nutrition treatment centres and accelerated our therapeutic food rations to ensure that malnourished children experience no breaks in their treatment.
In the fragile and conflict-affected countries where we work, there are no government-led systems of social welfare that cover all citizens. However, ambitious humanitarian response infrastructure does exist and is designed to be scaled up quickly in times of emergency.
Using mobile money technology, these systems are critical in providing basic social protection, allowing families to access vital supplies while sustaining local markets and small businesses.
Two years ago, when ferocious drought hit, it was these timely cash injections that prevented millions of people from slipping into famine across the Horn of Africa. Today, these are some of the practical strategies that we will need to scale up immediately.
Concern’s efforts are part of what is now a global humanitarian response to minimise the overwhelming impact of this virus, but timing is critical. Scaling up our operations is essential now and for that, resources will be urgently needed.
We cannot afford to delay or to be defeatist. To surrender the vulnerable to this virus in Africa would not only be a moral catastrophe, it would also mean the pandemic is never brought under control.