Curbing the global COVID-19 pandemic begins with limiting interpersonal transmission. Experts believe that the virus spreads through respiratory droplets, so individuals who do not practice social distancing, handwashing, and isolation when sick will prolong the current outbreak. One particularly vulnerable group, refugees, are largely unable to adhere to these preventative guidelines.
Whether living in camps or in cities, refugees are disproportionately exposed to crowded and unhygienic living conditions. Access to WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) facilities is usually limited. Social distancing may not be an option. Under these conditions, it will be difficult to control COVID-19 if it is introduced. Even after transmission is stopped in the general population, the virus could continue to spread rapidly within refugee populations in camps and in urban cities. According to UNHCR, over half of all refugees live in urban areas in order to avoid camp settings.1 However, these urban refugees usually face many of the same challenges as those in camps, including overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and poor access to services.2
The persistence of COVID-19 in countries hosting refugee populations could have global repercussions. There is evidence that rampant infectious disease may lead to prejudiced views (for example, towards groups of a specific race or income level), and this can spur resource competition, aggression, and even violence.3,4 A conflict in one country can affect entire regions and global relations, particularly the economies of countries who benefit from their exports.5
Even if conflict does not arise, fearful reactions can have widespread economic and social effects.6 In a note on global epidemics, WHO provides an excellent example from the 1991 cholera outbreak in Peru: adverse effects on tourism and panic-fueled embargos on food trade cost the United States $770 million.7 An ongoing COVID-19 outbreak could lead to disruptions to the global supply chain and strain on international cooperation. This could affect your quality of life.
MedGlobal is committed to supporting the COVID-19 response in communities that need it most — namely, communities of vulnerable refugees, internally displaced persons, and others affected by crises. We are working with local partners to implement COVID-19 triaging procedures, diagnostic procedures, and infection control policies in refugee camps and in healthcare facilities that treat refugees. We are training healthcare providers on management of disease, and we are procuring crucial medical supplies and equipment.
We hope that preparing for outbreaks within refugee populations now will dampen the economic and social effects that will extend worldwide — but this is a secondary benefit. Most importantly, these preventative measures aim to protect the 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.
Please support our efforts to provide immediate support to refugees and other vulnerable populations around the world by making a donation here.
- “The power of cities.” UNHCR, https://www.unhcr.org/innovation/the-power-of-cities/. Accessed 23 March 2020.
- “Urban Refugees.” International Rescue Committee, https://www.rescue-uk.org/sites/default/files/document/986/201112urbanrefsforechoadvocacyevent0.pdf. Accessed 23 March 2020.
- Letendre, Kenneth, Fincher, Corey L., and Thornhill, Randy. “Does infectious disease cause global variation in the frequency of intrastate armed conflict and civil war?” Biological Reviews, vol. 85, no. 3, 2010. Accessed at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1469-185X.2010.00133.x
- Kapiriri, Lydia, and Ross, Alison. “The Politics of Disease Epidemics: a Comparative Analysis of the SARS, Zika, and Ebola Outbreaks.” Global Social Welfare, vol 7, pg. 33-45, 2020. Accessed at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40609-018-0123-y
- Joyce, Sean. “Refugees and Infectious Diseases.” Brown Political Review, http://brownpoliticalreview.org/2017/11/refugees-infectious-diseases/. Accessed 23 March 2020.
- Bloom, David E., and Cadarette, D. “Infectious Disease Threats in the Twenty-First Century: Strengthening the Global Response” Frontiers in Immunology, vol. 10, 2019. Accessed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6447676/
- “Global epidemics and the impact of cholera.” World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/topics/cholera/impact/en/. Accessed 23 March 2020.