Global Coronavirus Response Efforts

by IsraAID
Global Coronavirus Response Efforts

The rate of COVID-19 vaccinations has recently increased around the globe, giving hope to millions of people desperate for relief after this challenging period. Rapid distribution and equitable access to vaccines is essential. It’s not only  ‘morally responsible’, but also economically beneficial for the rest of the world. International collaboration is crucial to fight the long-term effects of the pandemic.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into its second year, there have been over 100 million cases worldwide and almost 3 million deaths. Non-medical impact can be seen in various aspects of life including income, employment, access to education and health care, and mental health. Even in some of the wealthiest countries in the world, the pandemic has devasted millions. Many families and businesses are behind on rent or facing eviction, unemployment rates are climbing, the lines at food banks are longer than they have ever been before, and global mental health is a crisis of its own.

For middle and low-income countries, the challenges are somewhat similar, with the exception that they have far fewer resources, pushing their citizens into poverty and hunger. A new study conducted by UC Berkeley and the World Bank surveyed people across 16 low-income countries, suggesting that 70% of households suffered a decrease in income, and 45% were forced to miss or reduce meals. Only 11% were able to access health care, and in some communities, this dropped to 0%. Measures of economic activity like business income suggest that in some areas it shrunk by half. 2020 reversed years of progress in addressing global poverty, throwing many poorer communities back into food insecurity and extremely low incomes.

 Within just a week of arriving to Juba, South Sudan last month, I saw government restrictions significantly increase. The number of cases of COVID-19 jumped, resulting in a ban on all social gatherings, closure of schools, universities, and businesses not deemed essential, and cutting  the number of passengers on public transportation by half. Without financial support from national governments or international institutions, vulnerable people desperate to feed their families face no choice but to ignore social distancing measures.

The approval of COVID-19 vaccines seemed like a game-changer after so many months of restrictions, but without rapid distribution, there is a long journey ahead. The longer it takes to vaccinate the population, the greater chance of variants developing, strengthening the need for rapid global vaccine rollout.  For countries that have already started vaccinating their citizens, there is hope, however there is a fear that many countries, especially lower-income nations, won’t have access to vaccines until as late as 2024. Any delays to worldwide vaccine access will only prolong the pandemic.

International collaboration is essential for rapid and equitable distribution. Even when safe and well-developed vaccines are available, local distributions are often prioritized over a globally coordinated approach. As of today, about 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccine doses.

 Aside from any moral or humanitarian arguments to provide vaccine access to all countries, the global economic impact is also significant. A new study by the RAND corporation shows that it is less costly for high-income countries to distribute vaccines to lower-income countries than to focus only on local distribution.  For every $1 spent on supplying vaccines to low-income countries, high-income countries could receive $5 in return due to speedier economic recovery, as global economies are linked through trade, production, investments, and tourism. The bottom line is that distributing vaccines is not only responsible morally, but also economically.

Some efforts already exist to ensure a more equitable approach to vaccine allocation between countries. For example, G7 country leaders have committed 7.5 billion USD to the WHO’s COVAX initiative to finance global equitable access to tests, treatments, and vaccines in 2021. This is an important start, but it will not be enough. From both economic and health perspectives, none of us will be out of the pandemic until we all are. With this in mind, IsraAID is working closely with its teams around the globe to help the most vulnerable communities as they build back better, past the pandemic, and toward a more resilient future. But in order for this work to really take off, collaboration and equity has to be a central pillar of vaccination efforts.

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With Sexual & Gender-Based Violence on the rise in South Sudan, International Women’s Day celebrations are more important than ever, yet they’ve fallen casualty to COVID-19 restrictions.

 

February saw a large spike in the number of COVID-19 cases reported in South Sudan. Public services have been closed for months, and it doesn’t look like we’ll see the lockdown lifted anytime soon. Without an end in sight, we’re anxious about the “shadow pandemic” – the secondary consequences of COVID-19 – and have seen an increase in incidents of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

 

As COVID-19 Cases Rise, So Does Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

The pandemic has cost many people their job and the value of the South Sudanese Pound has plummeted, leading to increased tensions at home. Affording just one meal a day is not a simple task for many families. With so much control taken from people’s hands, stress levels are high. Since the pandemic began, we have been able to continue to meet with vulnerable people already known to us and manage and refer SGBV cases, but expanding our reach has been on hold for many months now. There are more survivors of SGBV that need our support.

With limited access to the community, we’re fearful we aren’t doing enough. Our biggest concern is the sharp increase in cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). It is reported that up to 90% of recent cases of violence are related to COVID-19. Pre-pandemic, this was already our main focus, creating safe and empowering spaces for women and girls and providing case management for survivors of SGBV, but the situation has only worsened over the past year. In 2020, 50% of women in South Sudan suffered from intimate partner violence.

 

Reduced Access to Communities

The virus entered the country in April, and, over the past year, the government has escalated restrictions as cases continue to rise. Travel bans, school closures and curfews created barriers to our activities that transformed our regular in-person activities in Women and Girl Friendly Spaces to door-to-door visits, severely reducing the number of people we can reach in a day. But with the recent uptick in cases, our staff have become less welcome during home visits. Many fear that people from outside of the community could bring COVID-19 to their homes and families, and at as much as $75 per test – more than two months of income – accurately tracking the virus is near impossible.

Our Community Emergency Council members and Community Focal Points act as custodians linking the organization to the community. The latter conduct home visits with support from social workers, making it possible to meet with vulnerable people and still keep within COVID-19 guidelines. They provide crucial information and can refer vulnerable people for relevant services. As trust declines, the community focal points have become our saving grace. These are trained volunteers who serve as the link between IsraAID and their communities, without which, access would be near impossible.

Since July 2020, we have been providing direct psychosocial support to 426 survivors of GBV in Urban Juba, Kajo Keji, Meridi and Lainya. Those supported include survivors of rape, sexual assault, psychological abuse, physical abuse, child forced marriage, and denial of resources or services. These communities are dealing with both their displacement and the pandemic, so it’s crucial to have their trust. As COVID-19 cases increase in South Sudan, trust towards others decreases.

 

Why International Women’s Day Is So Important in South Sudan

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a day to celebrate and recognize the contribution of women at all levels — family, community, and even institutions. It is a day to educate the community to consider women’s rights in all activities. The women in the communities we work with are our driving force. They plan how IsraAID celebrates IWD, based on their priorities. In the past, this has included singing about women’s rights, short plays, and sports games. Our role as IsraAID is to guide the process, but this year there has been no process to guide due to restrictions imposed by the government on social gatherings.

This week we should be celebrating one of our biggest annual events, but after a year of one-to-one meetings instead of community events, we’re yet again missing an opportunity to reach a considerable number of people with key awareness-raising messages. At our IWD events, we find all different community members – men and women, religious leaders and community chiefs, and girls of all ages. It is an opportunity to meet, discuss, and ensure thousands of new people hear the resilient women of South Sudan.

Even with continued lockdowns, office closures, positive COVID tests in our team, and fear within the communities, we are doing all we can to provide survivors of sexual and gender-based violence with the support they need. IsraAID has been working in South Sudan for 10 years, and with that experience behind us, we know we can get through this pandemic, no matter how long it takes. We hope we will be able to mark the next International Women’s Day together.

 

IsraAID South Sudan is the core leader of the GBV working group at the state level, and has been actively involved in the establishment of GBV referral pathways in Juba, Kajo-Keji, Lainya and Maridi. IsraAID is an active member of the Humanitarian Response Plan 2021 and is represented in the Protection Cluster, MHPSS Technical Working Group, and Child Protection Sub-cluster.

Galla Isaac Stephen is IsraAID South Sudan’s Protection Program Manager.

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Since the start of the pandemic, school closures and stay-at-home orders have left many children worldwide out of school. While some education systems have reopened schools with hygiene measures in place, others are still reliant on remote and virtual learning, and some are not going back to school at all.

IsraAID’s access to education programs across the globe are focused on assisting children, teachers, and caregivers throughout this challenging period. For locations with limited infrastructure, this means ensuring safe water access and adequate hygiene systems. In others, communities and educational staff may lack access to psychosocial support to ease this transition.

IsraAID remains committed to providing assistance to children and broader educational frameworks at this time, through our “Back-to-School” programming.

Dominica & the Bahamas

Hurricane Maria in Dominica in 2017 and Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas in 2019 caused long-term damage to schools - including hygiene and sanitation facilities - across each country. The major educational needs caused by these disasters have now been exacerbated by COVID-19.IsraAID’s teams are working closely with each Caribbean nation’s Ministry of Education to ensure schools have the psychosocial support, handwashing infrastructure, hygiene supplies, and information they need to keep their staff and students safe. In both countries, our “Back-to-School” distributions are providing educational facilities with personal protective equipment, thermometers, cleaning supplies, hygiene promotion posters, and hand sanitizer.

Mozambique

IsraAID is working to help rehabilitate hygiene infrastructure - such as handwashing stations - destroyed by last year’s Cyclone Idai. Currently, only 15% of schools in Mozambique are equipped with basic hygiene services.IsraAID is working with its partners in Mozambique, including the Ministry of Education, to outfit schools across Sofala Province with adequate hygiene facilities to ensure that children can go back to school safely. In addition, our teams are providing educational materials to help teachers integrate hygiene promotion and disease prevention into the classroom setting, and supporting school communities to produce soap from locally-available materials - ensuring a long-term, sustainable supply.

Colombia

In Colombia, formal education facilities are to remain closed until at least January 2021. For many of the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrant and refugee children, this exacerbates existing academic gaps after an already-long period out of school. IsraAID’s team in Barranquilla has reopened one of its Child Friendly Spaces to provide education support for these children according to coronavirus safety standards. Groups of five children will be able to attend 40-minute educational and psychosocial sessions twice a week, coupled with at-home, remote mathematics programming provided in partnership with Israeli start-up, Mathika. A second Child Friendly Space is due to open in the coming month.

Mexico

In Mexico City, the IsraAID team implemented our “Returning to My Healthy and Safe School” program for local teachers and education staff. This series of online workshops, alongside an implementation guide, garnered hundreds of participants from schools across the city. Through IsraAID Back-to-School programming, 14,000 students received hygiene products for use in classrooms. The Ministry of Education is currently scaling this program to the national level, reaching even more teachers, staff, and students.

Greece

For several months, the “Secret Garden Educational Center,” IsraAID’s education and psychosocial support facility for refugee children on the Greek island of Lesbos, has been operating online, via daily digital content and the weekly distribution of homework and activity packs. Refugee camps on the island have been in complete lockdown since March, with stringent guidelines to stymie the spread of COVID-19. IsraAID’s team in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki has established a community-led mask sewing initiative and will be sending their hand made masks to Lesbos for children to use when they return to classes. In addition, daily classes will include hygiene promotion lessons in smaller groups with more shifts, to ensure that children are able to return to class in a safe manner.

Thank you for your continued support during this challenging period.

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COVID-19 is a global disaster that leaves already vulnerable communities around the world - like refugees and populations recovering from disaster - at greater risk. For these communities, access is key to getting through this immediate crisis and preparing for what comes next. From health and hygiene information to safe water and soap, to mental health support, IsraAID's teams around the world are working day and night to reach these communities in the face of lockdowns and the ongoing threat of coronavirus.

Access to information: Information about COVID-19 and guidance for prevention steps people can take are crucial tools for getting through the pandemic and separating the facts from the ‘infodemic’ of false information surrounding the virus. IsraAID’s teams are reaching communities around the world with radio messages, pamphlets, posters, social media campaigns, calls, text messages, and more.

Access to water, sanitation & hygiene materials: Safe water and hygiene products like soap and disinfectants are crucial to reducing the spread of COVID-19 and maintaining personal health. From installing water filters to distributing soap and hand sanitizer, our teams are ensuring communities have the resources they need to protect themselves now and prepare for what comes next. 

Access to education: With schools closed around the world, many children – particularly from vulnerable populations, such as displaced people or communities recovering from disaster – are at risk of falling behind. IsraAID’s teams are working with education ministries around the world to introduce remote schooling, support teachers and staff, and distribute educational materials. 

Access to mental health & protection resources: COVID-19 does not just affect physical health, but mental health and wellbeing too - from stress and uncertainty, to the trauma of losing loved ones, to the increased risk of domestic violence during a lockdown. It’s crucial that coronavirus does not leave the most vulnerable individuals in communities even more vulnerable. Our teams are working to meet those immediate needs and provide communities with the tools to strengthen resilience and get through this crisis and prepare for recovery. 

Access to masks: Around the world, governments are mandating the wearing of face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. In displaced communities around the world, including Germany, Greece, and South Sudan, IsraAID’s teams are supporting community members as they organize themselves to sew masks for those who need them.

Thank you for your support during the global pandemic.

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IsraAID

Location: Tel Aviv, Merkaz - Israel
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Twitter: @IsraAID
Project Leader:
Molly Bernstein
Tel Aviv, Merkaz Israel
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