Covid-19 has impacted almost every country in the world. As families isolate, international travel comes to a halt and various different countries go into lockdown, very few people have not felt the effects of this pandemic.
However, experts have warned that the people who will suffer the most are those living in low income countries.
One charity that is stepping up to the plate during these uncertain times is Concern Worldwide. At the moment, their teams are preparing to assist communities in some of the world’s poorest countries to battle Covid-19, amid growing fears of the substantial human impact the virus could have as it continues to spread in Africa and Asia.
“It’s going to be very challenging,” explains Carol Morgan, the charity’s Regional Director for the Horn of Africa. “We’re looking around the world and the big concern we have is what is going to happen in the next few weeks and months. The number of Covid-19 cases is creeping up in African and Asian countries.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified insufficient intensive care facilities in Africa as being the biggest challenge it faces if the virus spreads. It confirmed at an Africa health briefing on March 19 that it is exploring the option of importing “field hospital type facilities” in the region should the number of critically ill people swamp local health systems.
While the numbers of confirmed cases have not reached the scale of those experienced in China or Italy, the numbers are beginning to rise in northern and southern Africa and are also increasing in countries such as Pakistan and Lebanon.
“Wherever Covid-19 arises in the world, it is going to do damage,” explains Carol. “However, the human impact is going to be much greater in countries which do not have adequate healthcare systems.”
“Many of us are working from home today so we can pretty much isolate. But if I was living in a slum in Nairobi with 6 relatives in the house with me, six inches between myself and the next home, you can’t social distance there.
“I don’t think any country’s healthcare would be capable of dealing with this yet so when you have very limited service, it’s very worrying. The biggest concern is the lack of intensive care units to deal with this.”
Concern is currently working to ensure the safety and wellbeing of over 3,900 staff in the 23 countries where it operates and ensuring they can continue to deliver programmes to their fullest extent possible in the event of the virus spreading.
Thankfully, they have got experience on their side as this is not the first time that they have dealt with a deadly outbreak. Concern teams were also on the ground during the Ebola epidemics in West Africa in 201-16 and the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2018.
Their staff will draw on their expertise in water, sanitation and hygiene, community education, healthcare worker training – and above all, preserving the safety and dignity of those infected.
“In Sierra Leone and Liberia more than 11,000 people died of Ebola in less than three years,” Carol explains. “We were in the midst of that. What we did then is very similar to the advice we are being given in Ireland now. We were supporting communities and providing things like water and soap. We were educating people to wash properly. Washing your hands is one of the key elements of protection. That’s difficult enough in Ireland but if you go to a country where clean water is not commonplace it is even harder.”
Lack of basic hygiene coupled with poor nutrition means that these nations will be disproportionately affected.
“While many African countries have younger populations and some have experience of managing epidemics, the downside for Africa is there is a lot of malnutrition. Many people are weak to start with and they don’t have the basic sanitation and clean running water. Hygiene is a huge factor in the spread of these viruses,” Carol explains.
“Some of the benefits of the work that organisations like Concern will do in the coming months will have a lasting impact. If we can get water and sanitation into areas, they are there for the long term. When the coronavirus is gone, they will still be there so the communities can build on that.”
No matter how bad the situation becomes, Concern will be there to support the people that need them.
“Concern is there for the poorest people in the world,” states Carol. “We will stand by them through thick and thin. Through traditional times of poverty and the devastating impact of climate change, through viruses and pandemics.
“We want to make people in Ireland aware of what we’re doing and what’s going on around the world. It’s not always easy to do that when you’re in the middle of a crisis yourself, but there will be people far worse off than us when it hits.”
The work that Concern is doing is only possible because of the generosity of the Irish public. If you would like to help Concern with their work please donate online today.