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Jul 6, 2020

COVID-19 in the World's Largest Refugee Camp

Handwashing in Cox's Bazar
Handwashing in Cox's Bazar

The COVID-19 pandemic has reached the Rohingya camps of Bangladesh, where more than 900,000 refugees, including nearly 500,000 children, live on a site spanning less than 10 square miles. With a population-density far higher than Manhattan, physical distancing and self-isolation is almost impossible to put into practice and there is a huge risk that COVID-19 will spread rapidly through the community.

To compound the problem, over 10% of Rohingya refugee households have at least one individual above the age of five with a disability or chronic illness. Cholera, chicken pox, and diphtheria have previously broken out in the camp and there is high number of existing respiratory infections — 174,000 since January 2020 — leaving those affected extremely vulnerable to coronavirus.

Concern is doing everything it can to continue operation while also respecting government-mandated restrictions. Double rations — enough to last an extra month — were distributed in advance of the shutdown and food stocks have been pre-positioned for distribution by Concern’s volunteer network within the camp to stave off the chronic threat of malnutrition.

The Concern team has also been working to make sure that those living in the camps have the facts about how the virus is spread and its effects, using nearly 250 trained Rohingya volunteers to counter dangerous misinformation.

A Concern-led consortium, designed to improved essential healthcare for disadvantaged communities, has moved quickly to create a simple and effective screening solution: an all-in-one mobile diagnosis and sample collection service.

Patients arriving at the mobile center receive free masks and hand sanitizer and are directed to a booth for consultation with a doctor via video call. If the patient is suspected of having COVID-19 symptoms, they are registered and referred to the sample collection booth. Trained staff then take a swab for laboratory testing. Currently the screening capacity is 150 samples per day and patients receive results within 48 hours. The service is provided free of charge.

Hasina Rahman, Concern’s acting Country Director in Bangladesh, says that this could be a very effective way to ramp up COVID screening across the country, especially in rural areas. “We are glad that we have been able to step up during this unprecedented crisis to support the government.” Given the population size and some of the access challenges, the task is enormous and the stakes are high.

Your support has helped Concern play a critical role in stemming the spread of COVID-19 among this particular vulnerable population. Thank you.

Jun 17, 2020

Compounding Crises: COVID & Locusts in East Africa

Social distancing, Somalia (Concern Worldwide)
Social distancing, Somalia (Concern Worldwide)

The World Food Program recently warned that COVID-19 could push as many as 265 million people worldwide into acute food insecurity by the end of 2020. Over the last several months, it has been made clear to Concern’s global staff that COVID-19 is not only a public health crises in its own right, but it also serves as an amplifier for existing issues, in particular hunger.

Prior to the spread of the pandemic, East Africa was already grappling with swarms of crop-destroying locusts. In January 2020 the largest locust infestation in decades struck Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, devouring tens of thousands of hectares of cropland.

Swarms have now spread further – heavy spring rains sustained humid weather conditions, allowing new swarms to breed that are predicted to be up 20 times larger than those from earlier this year.

A small swarm measuring one square kilometer can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people. Not only can these swarms devour this season’s food, they can also consume the seeds for next season, endangering lives and livelihoods for months and even years.

Concern has been working with affected communities in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia to provide both immediate and long-term aid in response. We are providing cash payments to families to buy fodder for livestock, food, seeds, agricultural tools and other basic items. Our ongoing work in the areas of disaster preparedness and smart agriculture – including crop diversification, the introduction of biofortified crops, and more effective food storage techniques – has mitigated the impact of the infestation where possible.

Unfortunately, the pandemic is slowing efforts to fight the infestation by diverting funds, affecting global supply chains, and restricting travel for pesticide-spraying vehicles and technical experts to affected regions. Concern has been advocating actively with the Kenyan government to ensure that the response to the infestation is not kept on the backburner.

These same restrictions on trade and movement have reduced the availability of food for purchase and raised prices. For those whose incomes are compromised by pandemic-related shutdowns, layoffs, and travel restrictions, it has become even harder to afford enough food to keep their families healthy. School closers have also left children without what was sometimes their only complete meal of the day.

Concern’s combined approach of cash/food/voucher distributions and livelihood generating support is helping families get their next meal and plan for those to come. We are providing personal protective equipment to all staff and volunteers, instituting social distancing, and modifying program practices and schedules to be able to continue our work safely and effectively, from nutrition assessment and treatment for expecting mothers and children and distributing supplies to maintaining access to clean water and income generation training.

Your support is essential to keeping up these efforts in the region, meeting growing need and adapting existing programs.

 

Thank you for being a part of our global community!

The Concern Team

May 8, 2020

Tackling COVID-19 among Displaced Syrians

Providing COVID-19 info in Lebanon. Concern, 2020.
Providing COVID-19 info in Lebanon. Concern, 2020.

Uncertainty and instability are two things that many communities in the Middle East are well used to, having endured years of war and conflict.

Prolonged fighting in countries like Syria, and resulting the influx of refugees in Lebanon and Turkey, have limited capacity at every level – with health infrastructure particularly strained. COVID-19 has now presented yet another challenge and is putting increasing pressure on already struggling populations.

In Lebanon, there have been 721 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 24 deaths as of April 30 – with the first diagnosis within a refugee camp raising significant concern over the potential for the infection to spread. In Turkey, as of April 30, there are 118,000 confirmed cases with over 3,000 deaths.

With limited testing facilities, there are growing concerns that the actual figure of confirmed COVID-19 cases is much higher.

Concern is responding quickly. In Syria, our teams have worked with local vendors to allow beneficiaries to purchase both food and hygiene products with vouchers provided by Concern. We are also distributing over 20,000 hygiene kits and food baskets to vulnerable people in camps, informal settlements, collective centers, and urban areas.

In Lebanon, the first COVID-19 case was recorded in a refugee camp in late April. With little access to lifesaving health care and not physically being able to practice safe social distancing, refugees are particularly at risk. Concern’s teams are working to contain the virus amongst Lebanon’s most vulnerable communities by distributing hygiene kits to refugees and essential leaflets on how to keep safe from COVID-19, reaching 4,000 individuals so far. We have also just finished the rehabilitation of a 50-room disused school as an isolation facility for suspected COVID-19 cases.

Further, we are strengthening remote case management work, which supports survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, child protection, and intimate partner violence – all of which are on the rise due to the extended lockdown. To better assist those that need our help, our teams have set-up a 24/7 hotline for psychological support.

According to Concern’s Case Management Officer in Lebanon, Siba Bizri, “the hotline is open 24/7 for regular calls. However, in times of emergency, Concern also activates WhatsApp phone calls, messages, and video calls.”

In Turkey, our team is providing urgent protection and case management support to vulnerable Syrian refugees. This includes the provision of urgent shelter support, cash support for food (in the form of shopping cards), basic household items (mattress, kitchen items, etc.), and emergency transportation.

Concern’s staff is also adapting and piloting online training sessions to caregivers of children on measures to take to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Preparations for distributing 3,575 hygiene kits with soap, shampoo, and anti-bacterial surface cleaners to vulnerable families are also underway.

This is just the beginning of our response, and there is still much more work that needs to be done. We know that now more than ever, quick responsive and preventative measures are essential if we are to beat the spread of COVID-19, and that is exactly what we plan on doing.

Thank you for your continued support.

 
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