Support Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis Response

by International Rescue Committee
Support Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis Response
Mitigating COVID-19 transmission in Colombia
Mitigating COVID-19 transmission in Colombia

It has now been two years since the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic and more than one year since the world began vaccinating against the disease. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we have connected millions of people to health, water and sanitation, education and nutrition support in the context of this pandemic. We have also created a clear foundation from which we can continue our work. We have honed our program models so that we are ready to provide support for communities that continue to experience the pressures of the pandemic in areas where we work—including in the world’s worst crisis zones.

The recent spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant has served as another stark reminder of vaccine inequality. Half of the countries on the IRC’s Emergency Watchlist—the countries at greatest risk of experiencing a deteriorating crisis in 2022 —have vaccinated less than 10% of their populations, with Democratic Republic of Congo (0.8%), Haiti (1%), Yemen (2%) and South Sudan (4%) being left the furthest behind.

To help bridge these gaps, the IRC has delivered COVID-19 vaccinations to refugees and displaced people in Uganda, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Bangladesh, etc. Complementing our vaccination efforts, we continue to connect people with resources to support fragile and failing health systems, education sectors and economies.

Vaccinations for refugees in Kakuma, Kenya

The IRC began vaccinating individuals in Kakuma Refugee Camp in early 2021. To date, our team has helped to administer over 30,000 doses.

Refugee families in Kakuma live together in small tents and makeshift homes and are confined in small spaces without access to proper water, sanitation and hygiene, making the conditions ripe for the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases. The pandemic led to fear and stigma across the community. Widespread misinformation was often shared across Kakuma using WhatsApp and other social media. IRC staff have continuously worked to promote vaccine-positive messages to mitigate vaccine hesitancy. We launched radio shows to dispel rumors and answer questions, providing factual information to the community in languages they would understand.

The IRC continues to vaccinate communities in Kakuma and we intend to scale our vaccine hesitancy response work further in 2022.

Learning for Children on the Move in Colombia and Beyond

Millions of children in Colombia have been impacted by COVID-related school closures, including more than 450,000 school-aged Venezuelan children, of whom about 260,000 were already out of school before the pandemic began. The combination of COVID closures and pre-existing access challenges for Venezuelan students calls for a versatile response.

The IRC has developed a radio program called Play Well designed for children ages 3 to 12, which focuses on developing social-emotional learning skills. The show has reached over 3.5M radio listeners. In addition, Play Well is now underway in Uganda and Tanzania, leveraging lessons learned during its implementation in Colombia. The first 3 episodes have aired in East Africa and were well received. 10 episodes were produced in English, Acholi, Bari, Juba Arabic and French, Swahili and Kirundi. Play Well demonstrates our client-centered approach to program design during the pandemic – we worked with local organizations to ensure the materials were contextualized and spoke to the unique challenges, stories and cultures of listeners.

Thank you for your support which funds our critical work to slow the spread of COVID-19, and helps to reduce the secondary impacts of the virus.

IRC community health worker in Kenya
IRC community health worker in Kenya
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An IRC client gets vaccinated in Za'atari Camp
An IRC client gets vaccinated in Za'atari Camp

COVID-19 remains a powerful reminder of the world’s inequalities, as people who are displaced or living in crisis are the hardest hit by the impacts of the pandemic and the last to receive Covid-19 vaccinations. The vaccine distribution is largely concentrated in high-income countries, despite dire need in conflict-affected, low-income countries.

As of October 15, 2021, 47.3% of the world population have received at least one dose of the vaccine, yet only 2.7% of people in low-income countries have. Across crisis-affected countries, we have seen health systems at full capacity and facing shortages of lifesaving supplies. The pandemic and its effects will not end until everyone has access to the vaccine—including those who are hardest to reach.

Providing vaccines in low-income communities

With your vital support—and the IRC’s strong track record responding to health emergencies—we are working to ensure that people displaced by conflict, climate change and other crises are included in the vaccine rollout and are ready to receive it.

We are supporting local health systems, training healthcare workers, and engaging communities to encourage vaccine acceptance and to address misinformation. The IRC is administering COVID-19 vaccinations in Jordan, Uganda, Somalia, Bangladesh and Kenya. As vaccines continue to arrive, we roll them out through the network of health facilities we support in the countries where we work.

The Government of Bangladesh appointed the IRC as the lead health actor in administering vaccines in Cox’s Bazar, and on August 10 Rohingya refugees started receiving their doses. IRC health workers have been delivering first and second doses to people ages 55 and over. We are exceeding vaccination targets of 57 people per day, and have vaccinated 1,866 Rohingya refugees living in the camps so far.

At the IRC’s Zaatari refugee camp in Northern Jordan, our health workers have vaccinated 14,703 residents and continue to provide boosters for all, including children and pregnant women. We also supported Jordan’s Ministry of Health by transforming a chest disease hospital in the town of Mafraq into an auxiliary vaccination center for all refugees in the Governorate.

Throughout the pandemic, our health teams have been working across nine provinces in Afghanistan. While we are not yet involved in the vaccine rollout, the IRC has been training healthcare workers on infection prevention and control, distributing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), improving access to clean water points, disseminating COVID-19 information materials, and training an army of community-based healthcare workers. This health work has become all the more crucial as the conflict escalates in the country.

Your support means we can continue to fund vital work to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the secondary impacts of the virus. Ending the pandemic can only be achieved if vaccines are available in all countries—to all populations, including refugees and displaced people fleeing conflict and other crises. We appreciate you standing with us during this unprecedented time.

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IRC's health clinic in Zaatari refugee camp
IRC's health clinic in Zaatari refugee camp

As the race to vaccinate populations against COVID-19 gathers pace, the gulf between those with access to a vaccine and those without has grown. While wealthier nations are equipped to fully inoculate their populations, the vast majority of people in low-to-middle-income countries have been left with unequal access.

This disparity continues to threaten the lives of millions of people living in under-resourced places and risks expanding the toll the virus has taken on our global community. We know that ending the pandemic can only be achieved if vaccines are available in all countries – to all populations, including refugees and displaced people fleeing conflict and other crises. 

Bringing the COVID-19 vaccine to crisis hotspots

With your essential support—and backed by the IRC’s strong track record responding to health emergencies and extensive networks—we are working to ensure people displaced by conflict, climate change and other crises are included in the vaccine rollout and are ready to receive it. 

Right now, the IRC is helping countries prepare to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and support inoculation campaigns by setting up isolation units, and procuring personal protective equipment (PPE) while ensuring that clinics and hospitals have access to essential supplies like medical oxygen, testing kits for COVID-19, and clean water and sanitation. As the vaccines become available, we are helping to administer them through the network of health facilities we currently support.

One of these is a clinic we run in Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan. The ministry of health has designated it a COVID-19 vaccination site, and many IRC health workers there have been trained by the ministry to administer the vaccine. The vaccination campaign started in mid-April 2021 and will eventually cover the approximately 80,000 Syrians who live in Zaatari. 

In Uganda, the story is similar. Ministry of health staff there are vaccinating health workers through the clinics we run in Bidi Bidi refugee camp in the north, home to some 270,000 South Sudanese. With IRC health workers trained to administer the vaccine, priority groups living in Bidi Bidi, such as the elderly, will soon receive their shots. 

In the end, a positive solution to the coronavirus crisis can only be achieved when everyone—including people in the hardest-to-reach parts of the world—is accounted for in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. “Everyone deserves equitable access and everyone has a right to health,” says Heather Teixeira, an IRC health policy advisor. “We cannot end the pandemic until all populations have access.”

Thank you for being part of the solution.

An IRC nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine dose
An IRC nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine dose
A Syrian refugee proudly receives his vaccine
A Syrian refugee proudly receives his vaccine
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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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International Rescue Committee

Location: New York, NY - USA
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Development Operations
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