COVID-19 in Humanitarian Crisis Zones: How You Help Women Already Struggling to Survive

More and more COVID-19 cases are appearing in places where people have suffered years of war and persecution. In densely packed refugee settlements with limited water and sanitation, preventing infection is a daunting task.

Thanks to your strong support, UNFPA is working to leave no one behind — especially our world’s most vulnerable and marginalized people.

UNFPA staff delivers lifesaving medical supplies to a hospital in Hajjah, Yemen. @UNFPA Yemen

Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The cumulative impact of more than five years of civil war, economic decline, and institutional collapse have left 24 million people — about 80 percent of the population — in need of aid and protection.

Even more tragic: As Yemen grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, funding shortfalls have forced UNFPA — the country’s sole provider of sexual and reproductive health care — to shutter 140 of its 189 of its health facilities.

As Adel Shuja’a, a nurse at one of the UNFPA supported centers that remain open, says: “We are in this poor community that is exhausted from war. The suffering has increased, and we may lose many of our mothers and children.”

Dedicated frontline health workers like Adel continue to provide care, putting their own lives at risk: “We do not have the minimum means of personal protection,” he continues.

Thanks to donor generosity, UNFPA has distributed personal protective equipment, essential medical supplies, and ventilators to health facilities throughout the country. The agency is also advocating for additional funding. As Nestor Owomuhangi, UNFPA’s Acting Representative in Yemen, says:

“We are now in a life-or-death situation. Women and girls will die if we do not provide critical reproductive health services. We can only do so if funding becomes available.”

@UNFPA Bangladesh.

Camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, are home to nearly one million Rohingya refugees — an historically persecuted ethnic minority from Myanmar. UNFPA’s 23 Women Friendly Spaces have remained operational. In these havens, women receive reproductive health and counseling services and support one another without fear of harassment, violence, or judgment. Now they are also learning how to prevent COVID-19.

In the camps, all 22 health facilities segregate COVID-19 patients to keep others safe. To lessen the spread of the virus, volunteers teach about hand washing and social distancing.

Escaping gang warfare, food scarcity, and economic collapse, around 4.5 million people have fled Venezuela since 2014. Horihanny Del Valle and her 14 family members are among them. They live together in a small, cramped house in Brazil, where the pandemic has wreaked havoc.

In May, Horihanny, a pregnant migrant worker, attended a UNFPA session about protecting herself from COVID-19. She plans to share what she learned with her family. She also received a dignity kit, which contains hygiene items like hand sanitizer, soap, and sanitary pads.

In Jordan, nearly 40,000 refugees from Syria live in Azraq camp, where a curfew has been imposed. Although sheltering in place slows the transmission of COVID-19, it traps women inside with their abusers, which increases the risk of sexual and gender-based violence.

Knowing this, Orouba Amin, a counselor, sprang into action: “I called beneficiaries to inform them of the availability of virtual support,” she told UNFPA.

Right now, she is helping women over the phone. For those who lack privacy to speak about sensitive matters, she communicates by text or WhatsApp, an online messaging service.

“One of the women texted me. When I responded, she said, ‘I’m fine now, as I know that you are there in case I need you.’ This meant everything to me,” Orouba said.

Support from donors like you means everything to the women UNFPA serves and the agency’s brave and dedicated frontline health workers like Orouba and Adel. Thank you for standing with them!

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