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Why we must show solidarity with the world’s vulnerable communities during COVID-19 crisis


April 17, 2020 • 3 min read

GOAL Deputy CEO Mary Van Lieshout writes about the need for global solidarity in this time of crisis and about how GOAL is responding.

"This is a time for countries to show solidarity with the most vulnerable communities and nations, in the interests of humanity as a whole."

We are all coming to terms with the profoundly unsettling new reality we find ourselves in due to the coronavirus. The scale and speed of infection has been alarming, as has its devastating capacity to take lives, destroy economies and put an enormous strain on resources and staffing in even the most capable healthcare systems in the world.

Whatever chance countries like Ireland have to cope with COVID-19, it has the potential to have a catastrophic impact on millions of vulnerable people living in the developing countries in which GOAL serves.

Chief among the challenges these countries face as COVID-19 threatens are weak or non-existent healthcare systems with very limited testing kits, ventilators, ICU beds and medical staff; lack of food and poor access to water which is a barrier to good hygiene practice.

50 handwashing barrels donated by GOAL to Aysaita hospital/refugee camp in Ethiopia, thanks to funding from ECHO.

Another huge challenge is preventing the rapid spread of COVID-19 in high density communities. Millions live in informal urban settlements and internally displaced and refugee camps. We are particularly concerned about the impact if COVID-19 takes a grip in Idlib in war-torn Northern Syria, where GOAL is supporting over 1.1 million internally displaced people in a very small area. We must ensure that all COVID-19 measures are demonstrably sensitive to the conflict, and ensure that those most at risk of violence are protected in this difficult time. Initiatives which build social cohesion and help address underlying drivers of conflict must be allowed to continue.

GOAL is already responding in our 13 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, working with Governments, local and national partners and donors – including Irish Aid – to do everything possible to contain the virus and protect the most vulnerable.

We are cascading vital health messages to communities. To date, we have reached more than 530,000 people in Ethiopia, including in refugee camps in which we work, with information on COVID-19 prevention. We have also provided water stations and liquid soap. In Zimbabwe, we are working with the Ministry of Health on a public awareness campaign which includes national radio ads on COVID-19 prevention. In Malawi we have vehicles driving through communities messaging on hand washing and social distancing. In Honduras we have helped local authorities create posters and deliver a Whatsapp campaign on actions to prevent the spread of the virus.

GOAL staff in Zimbabwe with the loudspeaker mobile units used to share public health messages.

We are drawing on our extensive experience of emergency health work and infectious disease preparedness around the world to respond to COVID-19, gained from our extensive response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia in 2014.

Central to that effort was community engagement. During the Ebola outbreak, GOAL pioneered a Community-Led Action (CLA) approach which saw us developing plans at local level to isolate and shield those most at risk, and manage cases of infection.  We are building this proven Community-Led Action approach into our COVID-19 response plans across our 13 countries as we work to minimise the capacity for transmission.

This is a time for countries to show solidarity with the most vulnerable communities and nations, in the interests of humanity as a whole. Short-term measures will not be enough. Thus, the response must also include long-term commitments from the international community to invest in national health systems and focus on building sustainable communities and economies that are resilient to pandemics.

We may be flattening the curve in Ireland, but we are not safe until all members of our global human family are safe.