COVID-19 emergency

A health worker checking a baby’s temperature in Indonesia

Vulnerable families across the world are at risk from the coronavirus pandemic

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The spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has unthinkable consequences in the places CARE is already delivering lifesaving aid – places where healthcare systems are already weak, and where disaster and conflict have wiped out long-term food supplies. In these communities there are far too many vulnerable people and too few resources to fight a deadly virus like this.

CARE is particularly concerned about the potential impact for refugees and displaced people, many of whom are living in overcrowded camps and settlements, with limited access to proper hygiene facilities, and health services that are already struggling to cope. An outbreak of coronavirus in a refugee settlement could be life-threatening for countless people.

To help support the global response effort CARE has launched an immediate appeal to build our Humanitarian Surge Fund allowing us to respond rapidly to the most vulnerable populations at greatest risk from this global pandemic.

We are building on our past experience responding to outbreaks of infectious disease in vulnerable communities – taking particular note that emergencies, including health crises, tend to disproportionately affect women and girls.

Girl washing her hands at a school in Mozambique
A young girl washing her hands at a hand-washing station provided by CARE to schools affected by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique

Working with communities

CARE’s response to infectious disease, such as the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa and the DRC, has centred on bolstering community mobilisation activities to raise public awareness and promote safe health and hygiene behaviours. In our Ebola response we were able to engage effectively thanks to our existing community ties in countries heavily affected by the outbreak. Our response to COVID-19 will similarly build on close cooperation with community members.

Supporting women and girls

There’s no question that women will be on the frontlines of the response to COVID-19, increasing their risk of contracting the virus:

  • Women as caregivers: women are the most frequent carers in families and face additional burdens caring for the sick when healthcare systems are overwhelmed, and for children when schools are closed.
  • Women as healthcare workers: about 70% of health and social workers worldwide – the backbone of an infectious disease response – are women.
  • Women as breadwinners: women are often the primary income earners for their families – and in smallholder farming communities, women often do most of the work growing crops. When they fall ill, food production can be severely impacted.

In addition, our experience providing humanitarian assistance to people affected by disasters and crises shows that women and girls face increased threats of gender-based violence during a crisis, and disruptions to crucial sexual and reproductive healthcare if healthcare resources are stretched during epidemics and pandemics.

Handwashing advice on wall at Dadaab camp, Kenya
Handwashing advice on a wall at Dadaab refugee settlement in Kenya

CARE’s response

CARE is moving fast so that we can respond rapidly as needed in the countries where we work. Our response will include provision of hygiene kits and handwashing stations; on-the-ground awareness-raising of good hygiene practices to help avoid the spread of infection; and supporting fragile public health systems, including training of frontline health staff and providing necessary health supplies to clinics.

We are also conducting a gender analysis in key countries affected by the pandemic to better understand how women and girls are affected by the coronavirus crisis.

Your support right now will help us to:

  • distribute soap and other essential hygiene items to vulnerable communities, particularly in refugee camps and settlements
  • install handwashing stations in refugee settlements and at schools, markets, and other public places
  • increase water supply in water-scarce areas to enable handwashing and household hygiene, for example through emergency water trucking and distribution of water storage containers
  • ensure proper handwashing and sanitation knowledge reaches children, teachers, and community leaders
  • carry out targeted hygiene promotion and education, specifically focusing on transmission risks and prevention of COVID-19
  • support community-based surveillance to track infection and minimise the impact of the coronavirus

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Below are a few early examples of how CARE is ramping up support for COVID-19 preparedness and prevention:

  • In Bangladesh, CARE is promoting COVID-19 preparedness in Cox’s Bazar – the world’s largest refugee settlement, where displaced families from Myanmar are potentially at high risk of infectious disease.
  • In Laos, where CARE conducts regular hygiene promotion activities, our teams are working with government agencies on how to reach communities with important messaging on COVID-19.
  • In Pacific countries, such as Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, CARE has resources and community links through our existing regional disaster preparedness program, giving a head start to COVID-19 outreach.
  • In South Sudan, CARE is collaborating with other humanitarian agencies working on health issues and coordinating with a newly established government taskforce on COVID-19.
  • In Syria, CARE is monitoring the risks the outbreak poses to displaced populations and supporting a consortium of humanitarian actors on information, education and communication efforts.

Currently, CARE is responding to COVID-19 in 64 countries and as of 1 May we had reached more than 6.5 million people. This includes 841,000 with hygiene kits, and 984,000 with increased access to water, 265,000 with food or cash/voucher support and 105,000 with information on how to report gender based violence.

But, this is a crisis on an unprecedented scale and we need to do more to limit the devastating impact of this pandemic and save lives. Please help us if you can.

Restrictions on travel, bans on large gatherings, school closures, and other government-imposed measures mean that some of our ongoing programmes are being partially suspended. Where possible we are adapting ongoing programmes to the new situation.

In the UK, the CARE International office in London has been closed since 17 March 2020. Staff are working remotely and operations are continuing as normal as far as possible.

Updated 13 May 2020