COVID-19: Response in the Middle East
International Medical Corps recently resumed providing assistance to women, children and men on the Gaza Strip. Our team on the ground is screening individuals and refers suspected cases for COVID-19 testing. Using our mobile medical units, we also are distributing hygiene kits and raising awareness about how to prevent and mitigate the spread of the disease. In addition, we are providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection prevention and control (IPC) supplies to partner organisations.
The Iraq team is securing additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and delivering training for frontline health workers on COVID-19 prevention and management, to ensure the safety of staff and beneficiaries as program activities continue. The team also is seeking funding to cover pandemic-response activities and integrating them into our existing healthcare and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs. The aim is to support hospitals in targeted locations by helping people living in displacement camps in Mosul, as well as vulnerable people living in Ninewa, Salah Al-Din and Anbar, to access essential healthcare services. In addition, the community outreach team is using in-person sessions, social media and radio broadcasting to raise awareness about the risks of COVID-19 and how to prevent it. While households are on lockdown and movement restrictions are in place, affected residents may experience increased mental and emotional distress, so our mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) team is conducting case management and follow-up remotely. With the increased risk of gender-based violence (GBV) for women and girls who may be confined at home with abusers, the Women and Girls’ Safe Spaces in the camps that we support in Mosul have remained open for case management, with physical distancing and hand hygiene measures in place to help prevent transmission of COVID-19. GBV case management is also being provided remotely via the phone or WhatsApp to survivors who consent to such follow-ups.
International Medical Corps’ team in Jordan continues to operate vital lifesaving health services across the country. All health services in Azraq and Zaatari Refugee Camps, as well as in Irbid, remain ongoing, with non-lifesaving services—such as outpatient sexual and reproductive health—resumed to full capacity. International Medical Corps is providing a range of services related to COVID-19 to an estimated 40,000 people living inside Azraq Refugee Camp. In particular, working with camp management, International Medical Corps has deployed a medical team to the camp’s entry and exit points to measure the temperature of anyone entering or exiting the camp. In addition, we have established a 10-patient isolation area (now in the process of icreasing its capacity to 50 beds) inside the camp where immediate treatment can be provided to suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases. In addition, the health team in the camp continues to provide awareness sessions on COVID-19 to residents, as well as NGO and security staff. Working with the Ministry of Health and the Jordanian Psychiatrist Society, International Medical Corps has established a 24/7 psychosocial support hotline in Jordan, staffed by our mental health team, to respond to the growing mental health needs in the face of COVID-19. As curfew restrictions now have been lifted in the country, International Medical Corps’ team in Jordan has resumed face-to-face mental health consultations, as well as child protection and nutrition services, for refugees and vulnerable Jordanians.
The explosion in Beirut has caused many COVID-19 precautionary measures to be relaxed, raising the prospects of even higher transmission rates and a large caseload in the coming weeks. We are working to link our response to COVID-19 to our response to the explosion. In the first ten days after the catastrophe, the team delivered 15 shipments of medical supplies and PPE, including masks, gloves, gauze, alcohol and plaster, to 19 primary healthcare centres and eight hospitals in Beirut. We also delivered PPE to more than 2,000 volunteers who are working to remove debris and repair damaged homes. Before the blast, our team had developed a COVID-19 contingency plan to address disruptions caused by the outbreak and related restrictions on movement. This involved procuring additional PPE and infection prevention and control (IPC) supplies—including hand sanitisers, sterilization alcohol, gloves, masks and soap—to protect frontline health workers. The team has also raised awareness about COVID-19 among community residents and provided psychological first-aid training to frontline workers. We are collaborating closely with the government and partner NGOs, participating in sub-working groups of national COVID-19 taskforces. So far, 39 facilities that we support have screened more than 170,000 people for COVID-19 symptoms. We also have distributed more than 800,000 PPE and IPC items to International Medical Corps-supported centres and safe spaces for women and girls. In Tripoli and Akkar, we are the health lead for the Rapid Response Teams, an initiative coordinated by UNHCR that works to mitigate the spread and damage of the virus among refugee communities. Our team is also developing activities and guidance for MHPSS support during the pandemic and continues to attend national COVID-19 taskforce meetings.
International Medical Corps’ team in Damascus has distributed hand sanitizers to beneficiaries who attend COVID-19 awareness sessions. To ensure the safety of staff, PPE and similar supplies are being provided to essential workers at our clinics. The team has provided thousands of bars of soap to rural areas near Damascus for immediate distribution, and has been contributing to hygiene campaigns by providing vehicles and raising awareness about COVID-19. Regular programming is now being resumed, with appropriate preventive measures in place. International Medical Corps is also planning to distribute 6,000 hygiene kits to IDPs settlements in Al-Hasakah, a city in northeastern Syria.
Due to the COVID-19 infection risk in health facilities as well as to ease the pressure on public hospitals, the Ministry of Health in Turkey has decided that some patients can continue their treatment at home. To support the early discharge of such patients, International Medical Corps is providing them with lifesaving medical equipment—including oxygen concentrators, aspirator devices, nebulizers and pulse oximeters—through two local partners, helping nearly 200 discharged patients since early March. In June, as government hospitals resumed a range of non-essential medical services, the team is again providing individual health assistance to non-COVID cases—especially those with disabilities—supplying, among other things, hearing devices, prothesis and orthosis. We also have donated PPE and IPC items—including gloves, masks and sanitizers—to service providers. Working for our partners as well as the Turkish government, we have trained 82 people in IPC, including the proper use of PPE. In July, the team provided online psychosocial first-aid (PFA) training, aiming to strengthen psychological intervention skills during emergencies. The team has adapted existing mental health, protection and physical rehabilitation services to respond to increased needs and context changes related to the pandemic, and continues to provide them through phone and video calls. Since March, 2,946 beneficiaries have taken part in COVID-related awareness sessions and 2,969 have attended COVID-focused mental health awareness sessions. Since March, a call center operated by our partner has received thousands of calls, reaching beneficiaries across more than 50 cities in Turkey. In addition, we have reached several thousand people through protection and mental health awareness sessions tailored to the pandemic. The team is also in the process of identifying the most vulnerable members of refugee and host communities in Turkey to provide food and sanitary items, and will conduct distribution in August.
Our healthcare team in Yemen is sharing COVID-19 case management and education guidelines with health facility staff. We have trained 431 frontline health workers and staff on COVID-19 case management and prevention methods and provided 23 health facilities with cleaning materials—including gloves, waterproof overalls and soap—to strengthen infection control. In collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health, we also have trained community health volunteers (CHVs) on how to prevent and treat COVID-19. For example, our team has provided CHVs with materials on how to prevent and treat COVID-19 for them to distribute in their communities, reaching more than 750 residents, as well as to health facilities that we support in Sana’a. Despite the global shortage of protective equipment, our team in Yemen has been able to source and distribute more than 700,000 PPE and IPC items—including masks, gloves, gowns, sanitizers and soap—to health facilities, health workers and other staff members. Following a request from the Danish Refugee Council, we are supporting its efforts to implement an innovative concept, called community shielding, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in crowded conditions. It is based on social isolation principles that recognize the challenges of complying with social distancing and prevention measures in over-populated displacement sites.