ALERT – HI adapts its action to combat COVID-19 and protect the most vulnerable | April 1, 2020

HI staff at work in Uganda

HI teams are making changes to the way they work in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the field wherever possible. This includes reviewing their current response and implementing new projects to protect people from the virus and deal with the impact of the crisis, with a focus on persons with […]

HI teams are making changes to the way they work in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the field wherever possible. This includes reviewing their current response and implementing new projects to protect people from the virus and deal with the impact of the crisis, with a focus on persons with disabilities, children, women, and isolated and older persons.

There are now 530,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide in some 175 countries and territories. Almost all of the 55 countries where HI works are affected. It is vital to prevent the unchecked spread of the pandemic in Africa, Latin America, South and Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. But despite the small number of officially identified cases in many of these countries, we must act now. This is why our teams are working with the beneficiaries of our actions wherever still possible and adapting their response to reduce the spread of the virus and protect people as much as they can.

Adapting our response to protect the most vulnerable

“We are adapting our operations in all countries where this is still possible. Our first aim is to protect our beneficiaries, who are among the most vulnerable to this virus. The challenge is to prevent transmission and meet the basic needs of vulnerable people so they do not become even more vulnerable and ensure their access to food, hygiene products and health services,” says Fanny Mraz from the Emergency Division at HI. “We are making these changes in every country, in line with the situation in the field. We have placed some projects on standby, adapted others, and launched new ones specifically to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. For the time being, our priority sectors are hygiene, protection, access to livelihoods, psychosocial assistance and logistics support to humanitarian actors for the transport of humanitarian aid.” 

Our existing projects take additional measures every day in response to the crisis

As of now, thirty-seven of our projects have adapted their action and begun to implement or prepare measures in response to the virus, including multiple awareness and prevention actions in Algeria, Bangladesh, Colombia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Sierra Leone, and other countries. We have also adjusted our logistics activities and humanitarian assistance in Central Africa, to include the use of gloves, masks and hydroalcoholic gel, particularly in Rwanda.

Hygiene awareness is vital to combat COVID-19

It is obvious worldwide that a sanitary and medical emergency response must be combined with awareness-raising and education in order to prepare and protect everyone and strengthen the impact of the fight against the pandemic. Action to raise awareness of hygiene and protection measures is urgently needed to combat COVID-19. Our teams have been trained to protect themselves and provide the people they assist with prevention information. Learning aids, such as posters, comply with international standards.

“We recommend ways members of the HI team and their beneficiaries can protect themselves when they meet each other. This includes hand washing with soap, the use of hydroalcoholic gel, and social distancing, and the wearing of FFP2 masks in health facilities and while doing tasks that require them. We face the same problems as people everywhere. It will be just as difficult to get FFP2 masks as it is in Europe, perhaps more so. Other problems will probably include a spike in discrimination and violence based on disability, gender and age, but also towards groups like migrants, displaced people, asylum seekers, refugees and returnees,says Fanny Mraz from the Emergency Division at HI.

We will provide specific advice to persons with disabilities, with messages adapted to those with communication problems, such as persons with deafness and hearing impairments, and the visually impaired. Others are specifically targeted at caregivers. Messages are also conveyed in a way adapted to their target audience.

Future actions: an emergency response adapted to COVID-19 and new projects

HI’s Emergency Division has created a COVID-19 crisis emergency response framework that integrates the need to support pre-determined priority sectors for governments, communities and individuals in the countries where we work. Where it is not possible to access populations, we will implement a specific response based on the media, digital resources and internet sites. 

“Emergency action includes the distribution of hygiene equipment and livelihood assistance. Atlas Logistique, HI’s logistics operations unit specialised in supply chains and logistics solutions for other humanitarian aid actors is ready to respond. Atlas Logistique can make its logistics platforms and expertise in analysing access problems available to the humanitarian community,” says Fanny Mraz. “We should also provide close support to persons with mental health problems who can develop specific symptoms – severe stress and anxiety – in these situations. We will also keep a close eye on the potential stigmatising of persons affected by Covid-19, particularly persons with disabilities.”


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