Support Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis Response

by International Rescue Committee
Support Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis Response
Dr. Edna Patricia Gomez, refugee and doctor
Dr. Edna Patricia Gomez, refugee and doctor

Dear Friends,

More than a year after the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus continues to enact profound social and economic disruption across the globe. It is a crisis not seen before in modern times, has stolen the lives of more than 2.4 million people, and continues to jeopardize the health, wellbeing and economic realities of millions more.   

For refugees and other people uprooted, the future remains particularly uncertain. Nearly 90% of the world’s refugees live in developing countries that often struggle to provide basic services, let alone stop the spread of a highly contagious virus.    

What remains certainisthe difference your support continues to make for IRC clients, who we have been able to reach and help during this time of urgent and unmatched need.   

Your support to the IRC is helping to protect families and communities affected by crisis from the most devastating impacts of COVID-19 in more than 40 countries. It has allowed our essential workers and staff on the frontlines to adapt and deliver healthcare services, create access to clean water, provide education to children, and offer economic empowerment services for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.  

Your support is helping essential workers like Dr. Edna Patricia Gomez--a doctor employed by the IRC who is herself a Venezuelan refugee--to provide women’s health and triage support to stranded travelers in Cúcuta, Colombia. In her own words: “We’re educating. We’re screening for COVID-19. We have a specific unit that treats patients with respiratory issues. It’s fundamental for us to understand that COVID-19 does not discriminate. To understand that we, as human beings, need to unite and complement each other and refugees always have the capacity to contribute more than people admit.”   

In the coming months, the IRC will continue to keep families already fleeing for theirlivessafe by playing a vital role in training and supporting local healthcare workers in fragile places to help ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. As we now know, no one is safe until everyone is protected.   

On behalf of IRC staff, and particularly the people we serve, thank you for investing in people whose lives are shattered by conflict and disaster. Your compassion, commitment, and generosity are deeply appreciated.  


Dr. Mesfin Teklu Tessema  


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Distributing PPE in Zimbabwe
Distributing PPE in Zimbabwe

Crisis Overview

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a rapidly spreading outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In the six months since, more than 32 million people around the world have been infected, creating the worst global health and economic crisis in a century.

People living in humanitarian settings worldwide, especially in refugee camps and rural communities, are facing the harshest realities of this emergency, threatened by limited access to reliable information and essential services. Women and girls, and other vulnerable populations often marginalized in times of crisis, are further disadvantaged by unequal access to health facilities or information that can help protect them and their families.        

Months of intermittent lockdowns and social isolation have led to the closure of millions of businesses and a sharp decline in global GDP. In many fragile places already struggling to survive violent conflict or environmental disaster – such as Yemen, South Sudan and Venezuela – the compounding health and economic crises cause by COVID-19 has also led to skyrocketing food prices and growing hunger.

A Leading Response

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) was able to launch a robust emergency response in more than 34 countries to help staunch the spread of COVID-19, support the safety of IRC frontline staff, and adapt many of our existing lifesaving programs to continue providing health, clean water and sanitation, education, protection, and economic empowerment services for crisis-affected people worldwide.

Today, the IRC’s 30,000-person team is uniquely positioned across some 200 field sites working to help communities destabilized by the pandemic. Together, our response is leveraging deep community ties, decades of experience responding to disease outbreaks in some of the world’s most challenging contexts, as well as our commitment to innovative and evidence-based humanitarian interventions.

This crisis has also shown that a global pandemic cannot be beaten at home until it is beaten everywhere, including in fragile and conflict-affected countries. To this end, flexible funding from private partners is not only fueling the delivery of critical emergency services, it is also helping to allow innovative programming adaption that can drive better and sustainable outcomes across our work and the humanitarian sector: from social and emotional education models that help increase more equitable outcomes for women and girls, to the IRC’s inventive platform Signpost that is providing trusted information for displaced people as never before, to our malnutrition research that is showing how to revolutionize a failing system for tackling acute malnutrition.

With crucial support from private partners, the IRC is working to continue to meet both the immediate needs of people affected by COVID-19 and help build back better for the future. The following provides a few brief highlights of our work to date.

The Impact of Our Work

Slowing the spread of COVID-19

  • Infection prevention and control: Using IRC’s Infection Prevention and Control package for outbreaks, we are helping protect health workers, patients, and community members through best practices in hand-washing, triaging, isolating cases, and using and disinfecting personal protective equipment. In coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO) and local health officials, the IRC is supporting fever testing and contact-tracing at health facilities and, where the IRC has a pre-existing network of community health workers, community-based contact tracing to track the spread of the virus and inform community members who may have been exposed. We also continue to work to ensure equitable access to adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene, which are crucial to implement effective infection prevention measures. Activities include:
    • recruiting 28 additional health care professionals to support newly-created IRC isolation units, and training heath workers in Kenya;
    • delivering personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to health staff in six primary health care facilities, and procuring three isolation units and two waterproof tents to support the response in Libya;
    • installing 105 new handwashing stations, and distributing more than 2,200 personal protective masks to health workers in South Sudan; and distributing more than 17,350 surgical or disposable face masks and other personal protective equipment in Pakistan.

  • Community engagement and information sharing: Successful outbreak containment cannot be achieved without community engagement and ownership. IRC staff are working with local health providers, social services, civil society actors, and existing community-based networks to understand community concerns, and promote clear risk communication messages that reinforce local response plans and fight back against fake news. From Bangladesh to Berlin, we are also advocating to local and national authorities to ensure that response plans take into account the specific vulnerabilities of at-risk individuals. IRC’s global information portal Signpost is allowing vulnerable migrant communities in Europe and Latin America to remotely access information about how to keep themselves safe and access critical services. Efforts include:  
  • reaching 3,458 people with health education messaging in South Sudan;
  • reaching 12,900 people with risk communication and community engagement messages in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp and wider communities in Bangladesh; and
  • conducting 320 remote COVID-awareness sessions with 2,282 community members, and sending nearly 80,000 informational messages (SMS) to patients and clients in Jordan.

Addressing health needs of local communities

  • Last mile basic health services: Weak local health systems combined with shelter-in-place measures to combat the spread of the virus make it difficult for remote communities, particularly those in active conflict zones, to access health clinics and hospitals, which can often require a several hour walk to reach. The IRC’s experience operating in complex environments, combined with our development of low-tech and low-literacy tools and treatments, are allowing community health workers to bring basic health services to the hardest to access populations, such as:
    • in Jordan where we are reaching more than 2,000 vulnerable families through mobile health teams and awareness campaigns, and
    • in Northwest Syria where we are helping ambulances identify and transfer suspected COVID patients to nearby hospitals.                                                                
  • Critical health issues unrelated to COVID-19: In the 2014-15 West Africa Ebola epidemic, excess malaria deaths claimed more lives than Ebola itself as a result of suspension or lack of access to healthcare. Maintaining basic health services during the pandemic is imperative to prevent even more loss of life. In addition to treating COVID-19 patients, IRC continues to support the treatment and prevention of other communicable diseases, including through the provision of immunization services, basic diagnostic services, management of health conditions that require urgent interventions, and continuity of critical inpatient care, including:
  • providing 5,289 direct and remote consultations and health outreach services for non-communicable diseases, along with secure home delivery of medications to high-risk patients in Jordan, and
  • providing primary health care consultations to more than 21,684 individuals in Bangladesh.
  • Reproductive health services: Outbreaks can hinder women’s access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services, potentially increasing maternal mortality. The IRC is responding both remotely and through COVID-adapted in-person services by prepositioning “dignity kits” with menstrual pads and ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services, as well as clinical care for sexual assault survivors in conjunction with other gender-based violence (GBV) services in ways that minimizes client contact, such as:
    • offering reproductive health consultations for over 17,750 women, specialist referral services for more than 3,231 patients, and transfers to special health facilities for 1,740 obstetric patients in Bangladesh.

Caring for the most vulnerable

  • Meeting basic and food security needs: Our clients are losing income and their ability to meet basic needs due to outbreak containment measures put in place globally. The IRC is adapting our existing country program infrastructure, which is already able to deliver cash, vouchers and in-kind assistance at scale, to ensure these services are available remotely or safely in-person. We have already successfully shifted to remote cash delivery, including through digital mobile payments in countries like Colombia.
  • In countries with food security risks exacerbated by the outbreak, IRC is supporting local food production by distributing fast-germinating seeds, along with staple and highly-nutritious food crops. In the U.S. and Europe, the IRC is distributing food and medicines to the most vulnerable beneficiaries, providing emergency digital cash assistance, and helping clients access public relief benefits such as unemployment insurance. Related activities include:

  • partnering with local entities to rehabilitate 198 boreholes and distributing livestock feed to 1,500 farmers in Zimbabwe;
  • registering 3,568 households for emergency cash assistance and provide grants to more than 240 small businesses in Somalia.
  • working with community members in Bidi Bidi, Uganda, the second largest refugee settlement in the world, on agricultural activities, including distributing tools and planting materials, after securing 299 acres of land for 643 refugees and host community members; and 
  • registering 3,568 households for emergency cash assistance and provide grants to more than 240 small businesses in Somalia.
  • Age and gender-based violence response: During this pandemic, girls and boys are facing increased violence and abuse within the home, while many women and girls experiencing intimate partner violence or sexual abuse are trapped with their abusers at home. As women and children lose key lifelines for addressing violence, the IRC is adapting emergency protection case management and psychosocial support services for high-risk cases to ensure women, children and other vulnerable individuals receive mobile or safe in-person support, such as:
  • providing 825 households cash assistance, and conducting 1:1 awareness-raising sessions with women and girls in Anbar refugee camp in Iraq;
  • distributing lifesaving cash assistance to 287 women, and delivering 200 basic-needs kits and 100 hygiene kits to individuals and families who are survivors of or at high-risk of violence in El Salvador; and
  • providing 16 shelters with “dignity” kits that include a month’s worth of hygiene products for women and girls, alongside guidance on violence prevention in Mexico.
  • Mental health and psychosocial support services: Disease outbreaks are associated with increasing levels of stress, sadness, confusion, fear, anger, grief, and stigma. The IRC is building resilience and promoting recovery for COVID-19 patients, affected communities, and frontline responders by integrating mental health and psychosocial services into primary health care, remote education, mobile and emergency case management, and community outreach efforts.  We are:
    • reaching more than 13,105 people with health and wellness guidance, providing 862 clients with legal counseling, and conducting 209 remote training sessions with child protection officers in Lebanon.

Continuing vital services

  • Education: 90% of children across the world are currently out of school due to the pandemic. The IRC is working with schools, ministries of education, and technology partners to curate, adapt, and distribute digital and radio educational content to support parents and enable children to continue their education while schools are closed. In additional to reading and math, IRC’s educational content is also covering social-emotional learning and parenting under stress, all designed to be modular, accessible in multiple local languages, and easy for caregivers to use with children learning at home.  Related activities include:
    • creating education kits to reach parents and children in their homes in Afghanistan; and
    • preparing refugees and asylees slated for resettlement through remote orientation sessions in 11 different languages in Malaysia.
  • Refugee resettlement and community services in 25 U.S. cities: IRC offices are following  Center for Disease Control (CDC) and local guidelines on best practices in personal hygiene and health, with staff and clients  practicing  social distancing and switching to remote programming to serve clients whenever possible.  For instance:
    • in Atlanta, we are partnering with community relief efforts and local government officials to bring mass mobile COVID-19 testing and contact tracing—with language interpretation—to Clarkston and DeKalb County, Georgia. More than 350 tests were done in May with at least one additional round of testing planned for fall. The sites are staffed by trained members of the refugee community—many of whom have previous medical experience—and interpretation is available in more than 15 languages;  
  • in New York and New Jersey, we have expanded food distribution sites in partnership with World Central Kitchen. IRC volunteers and clients have distributed more than 6,000 meals at various sites, and are partnering with other nonprofits to provide meals to food insecure families.

The Way Forward

While the next 6-12 months are critical to containing the outbreak, saving lives, and keeping vulnerable families afloat economically, the IRC knows that COVID-19 will continue to have long-lasting effects worldwide. In addition to our emergency response to the virus, the IRC is leveraging our strengths in resilience-building, systems-strengthening, and innovative program design to plan for the COVID-19 reality of tomorrow.

IRC’s mission to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future is truer than ever in this crisis. Allowing the communities we serve, from resettled Congolese refugees in Dallas to women entrepreneurs in Iraq, to gain control of their future will only be possible when they are able to work, go to school, and access the services and information they need in a safe and reliable way.

From training community health workers to delivering vaccines, to expanding our global digital information platform Signpost, to modeling, testing, and scaling remotely-delivered education, job-training, and protection programs, the IRC is already identifying and investing in the services that will be critical over the next five years to getting the hardest-hit communities back on their feet. We know that investments we make today will allow us to quickly scale up these programs when the world is ready to leave their homes again.

Thank you

With generous and timely support, the IRC has been able to train health workers, deploy mobile health teams, support health facilities with protective gear, provide clean water and sanitation services to fight COVID-19, and continue other essential programs in places where the virus continues to spread, including the United States and in dozens of fragile places around the world.

We welcome the opportunity to work with you to continue this vital work in the months to come, and thank you for all that you do to support the IRC in providing the value of Rescue.

Community health training in Pakistan
Community health training in Pakistan
Distributing meals w/ World Central Kitchen in NJ
Distributing meals w/ World Central Kitchen in NJ
Providing COVID-19 medical assistance in Colombia
Providing COVID-19 medical assistance in Colombia


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COVID-19 cases are trending downward in the United States and most of Europe, but some countries the International Rescue Committee (IRC) serves are only beginning to experience the impact of the disease. The IRC is capturing and sharing the lessons learned from countries further along in their responses to the pandemic, and using this information to scale our impact in areas where COVID-19 is spreading.

We know that the scale and severity of the virus’ impact is greater in humanitarian settings that have limited access to reliable information and essential services, especially high-density displacement camps and insecure rural communities. Women and girls, often marginalized in times of crisis, will find it even more difficult to access health facilities or health information when confined to their homes and shelters. The IRC anticipates that gender-based violence will rise during outbreaks. Currently, 65 percent of women and girls in South Sudan experience violence, and 80 percent of at-risk women and girls have no access to gender-based violence (GBV) services. These percentages will grow, which is why the IRC is working to integrate mental health and gender services into our response to the virus from the outset.

COVID-19 has another dire effect on communities ridden with conflict: skyrocketing food prices. New IRC data from Kenya, Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Uganda, South Sudan and other nations show that vulnerable populations are losing income and seeing businesses fail. The IRC is responding with immediate cash assistance to help clients meet basic needs in Colombia, Yemen, Sierra Leone and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, camps in Syria, Greece and Bangladesh represent some of the most densely populated areas in the world where the virus could spread rapidly. In parts of Moria camp in Greece, over 1,300 people share one water tap; over 200 share one latrine. Rohingya refugees in just one site in Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee camp, could experience 590,000 infections and over 2,100 deaths in a year.

Without swift action in the coming weeks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, more than 1 billion people worldwide may become infected, leading to 3.2 million deaths in 34 countries served by the IRC. But because of your support, we already are helping vulnerable people in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and other crisis-affected nations prepare for and respond to COVID-19.


On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Cases worldwide now exceed 8 million. In response, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) launched a $30 million funding appeal to support preparedness and prevention efforts to staunch the spread of the virus. This appeal to public and private sectors, including our own generous supporters, is helping us slow the spread of the disease, support staff safety, and continue our critical frontline response to the pandemic.

Based on our experience combating the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and using this hard-earned medical and technical knowledge to establish best practice, the IRC has designed a bold approach to disrupt and diminish the outbreak in communities where we work.

The IRC’s immediate response aimed to:

• contain the spread of COVID-19, protect communities, and care for the sick;

• meet basic food and security needs, with a focus on cash and voucher distribution;

• provide essential services.

Our longer-term response focuses to:

• keep staff, partners and clients safe;

• build from evidence and adhere to quality standards;

• support the local and national response;

• ensure gender equality is integrated in our response;

• adapt to fast-evolving needs, utilizing technology to reach clients remotely when necessary.

In Bangladesh, 62,148 community members have received COVID-19 awareness-raising messages since the beginning of our COVID-19 response. In Myanmar, our COVID-19 awareness-raising efforts have reached 1,076 community members, educating them on proper prevention methods as well as symptoms.

In Pakistan, the IRC worked with other agencies to develop key information about the disease for the National Disaster Management Authority as part of its mass media awareness campaigns. To date, the IRC has successfully reached over 3,663,396 beneficiaries directly all over the country.

In Kenya, the IRC has trained health workers on COVID-19 and reinforced hygiene and self-isolation procedures. We have recruited 28 additional health care professionals to support our response at newly created IRC isolation units.

After five years of war, Yemen suffers from a dysfunctional health care system that can’t cope with an alarmingly high level of COVID-19 mortality. The IRC country team has provided cash distribution for 281 internally displaced households in southern Yemen while adhering to protective procedures and social distancing protocols. The IRC’s mobile health teams, nutrition services and hygiene awareness campaigns are ongoing, reaching more than 2,000 individuals.

In Cúcuta, Colombia, the IRC health center has added a larger coverage of health services to meet the increase in patients. We are also maintaining medical consultations for migrants arriving at the border with Venezuela. Medical health services (primary health care, antenatal care and family planning) as well as telemedicine services are being provided at a mobile clinic near the border. IRC’s health team has reached more than 2,000 individuals during April and May, mainly women. Remote distribution (e-transfer) is ongoing, and hygiene and education kits are being distributed. Thanks to this contribution, IRC in Colombia was also able to purchase the PPE necessary for its staff and donated to the public health system in Cucuta, Medellin and Bogota.

In El Salvador, lifesaving cash has been distributed to 287 women and their families who are survivors of, or at high risk of, genderbased violence. The IRC country team has delivered 200 basicneeds kits, 100 hygiene kits for female and 100 hygiene kits for male returnees, recently deported from the US and being held in quarantine centers.

In Mexico, the IRC has been actively working on prevention of COVID-19, providing 16 shelters with kits that include a month’s worth of hygiene products. We are also distributing “dignity kits” (feminine hygiene) for women and girls in shelters, while reinforcing messaging on the prevention of violence against women.

In the United States, IRC offices are following CDC and local guidance on best practices in personal hygiene and health, with staff and clients practicing social distancing, canceling nonessential travel, and switching to remote programming whenever possible.

• In Seattle, case managers are creating health and hygiene kits and stocking emergency food supplies for families at higher risk. We are offering home study packets to students in our youth programs and remote mentoring for youth and adults.

• In New York and New Jersey, we have expanded food distribution sites in partnership with World Central Kitchen and in coordination with local authorities. IRC volunteers and clients have pitched in to distribute 6,000 meals at various sites, and we are partnering with other nonprofits to provide meals for food insecure families. All staff, volunteers and clients are working to reinforce public health messaging, social distancing and stay-athome protocols.


Florence, 35, is a mother of three girls and four boys living in Kenya. She was first introduced to the IRC in 2019 after seeking medical help for one of her daughters who was the victim of sexual and gender-based violence. The clinic referred them to a wellness center managed by the IRC, where her daughter received further medical and psychosocial support. Florence has remained in contact with the IRC ever since.

As a mother, Florence’s priority is to keep her children happy, healthy and safe, which, unfortunately, are all threatened by COVID-19. Says Florence: “My responsibilities have increased: I am mother, teacher and custodian to my children. I monitor their every movement in order to keep them safe. The children are home all the time; hence, I must ensure they have food to eat and are taken care of. My children are worried about their education and whether they will have to repeat their classes. I am highly cautious because of COVID-19 and I do not want my children interacting with others. Financially, we are struggling because I lost my job, since business was not doing well, and my employer was forced to let us go.”

Florence explains that people in her community are facing similar needs. Many families are unable to homeschool their children or provide access to online learning. In addition, Florence notes, “We are also afraid of the safety of our children, watching helplessly as our children deal with anger, confusion, fear, and being unable to make things better for them.”

Despite these many challenges, Florence urges mothers around the world “to be strong for their children, follow the precautionary measures, and keep hope alive no matter how dark it gets.”

The IRC has been providing essential and lifesaving services in Kenya since 1992 and is working swiftly to adapt to the challenges presented by COVID-19. IRC staff in Kenya are hard at work ensuring that preventive and protective measures are in place. In Kenya’s Kakuma camp, home to some 194,000 refugees, IRC health workers and staff are teaching hand-washing techniques and safety procedures through community outreach programs to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

Florence and her family
Florence and her family


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International Rescue Committee

Location: New York, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @RESCUEorg
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Development Operations
New York, NY United States
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