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COVID-19 continues to spread globally. Poor countries with fragile public health systems, where people are already facing many threats to their survival, are at greatest risk of infection and death.
The potential for devastation is especially high in refugee camps or countries that are already experiencing conflict or crisis, where people already struggle to access clean water, nutritious food, health care, safe shelter and other basics that offer protection from COVID-19. The impact could be devastating in crowded camps, urban areas and in settings where women are already fighting for their rights.
Women will be most deeply affected during this crisis because they make up 70 per cent of health care workers worldwide and will be at the frontlines of this pandemic, which puts them at high risk of infection. Women also hold an unequal share of care responsibilities around the world, and this care work will increase dramatically in this crisis, whether it is due to caring for sick parents or caring for children at home while schools are closed.
This is a global crisis we cannot ignore. There is still time to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent a catastrophic loss of life in refugee camps and the world's poorest countries.
What is Oxfam Doing?
We are working with our partners, government health ministries and key UN agencies in 65 countries to determine the most effective response to the crisis in each region.
This is what Oxfam is doing right now:
- Increasing the distribution of soap and strengthening sanitation services, including facilities for washing hands, as well as access to drinking water, especially for people living in overcrowded refugee camps and urban areas.
- Helping people minimize the risk of infection by providing accurate information and advice in local languages in the poorest countries around the world.
- In Myanmar and Bangladesh, we have increased our health promotion work around hand and respiratory hygiene in the camps where we work. Our team in Myanmar is working closely with local partners to scale up our humanitarian assistance in more than 100 displacement camps, distributing soap, building more than 1000 handwashing stations (to date), distributing 17,000 additional bars of soap per month, increased hygiene materials and delivering health education and training in camps for people displaced by long-standing conflict.
- In the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which is now in complete lockdown, we are using social networks and WhatsApp to spread messages promoting good hygiene practices. We are reaching more than 2,000 children with awareness sessions on proper handwashing techniques
- In Syria, which is now in the 10th year since the outbreak of conflict, people are facing the grim reality of COVID-19. In response, Oxfam is seeking approvals for a mass-media campaign and scaling up delivery of clean water in the most at-risk communities. The first phase of our plan aims to reach more than 100,000 people directly.
- In Pakistan, we have installed water tanks in a large centre where people are quarantined to allow them access to clean water. And in Iraq, we are advance-shipping hygiene and infection control materials, in addition to delivering public health awareness campaigns.
- In Yemen, families and communities have endured more than five years of conflict, which has left the health system in ruins, and has pushed vital resources like clean water, safe shelter and proper nutrition out of reach for many. Oxfam's Yemen country team is preparing a public health promotion campaign on COVID-19 prevention, including training for community health volunteers to engage in community awareness campaigns, and support to health facilities with hygiene care materials.
- In Afghanistan, we are incorporating COVID-19 awareness-raising messages into our ongoing humanitarian response, which includes distributing food and cash to families, and supplies to support farmers.
- In Mozambique, where families are still recovering from Cyclone Idai, which made landfall just over a year ago, Oxfam and partners are working to combat misinformation about COVID-19 and to raise awareness of prevention and treatment with the help of community volunteers.
- An outbreak in Gaza would have tremendous consequences, as the health system was already collapsing prior to COVID-19 and more than half of the population is living under the poverty line. Oxfam is providing 100 beds and hygiene kits to quarantine centres in Gaza, as well as hygienic protective clothing, handwashing facilities and sterilization materials for 750 medical staff working in 15 non-governmental medical centres. We also are working with the World Health Organization and UNICEF to support a public-health campaign across the Occupied Palestine Territory.
EVERYWHERE, women are likely to be disproportionately affected by this pandemic. Women are more vulnerable to getting sick due to added family care responsibilities, and those who are already experiencing domestic violence are likely to be confined to households where they are in constant danger. In our experience, women and marginalized groups are usually also excluded from decision-making spaces for the design and implementation of policies that directly affect them, and the response to this pandemic may not be any different.
We are working with partners in Canada and around the world to push for inclusion of women’s voices at key decision-making tables.