Red Cross investing in fight against coronavirus in Africa, the Middle East and Asia

Kenya Red Cross
Volunteers of the Kenya Red Cross Society share health information in their communities about the importance of such things as good hygiene in the prevention of the coronavirus disease.
Image: Kenya Red Cross

The Finnish Red Cross is launching extensive relief efforts to protect the health of those most vulnerable with the support of donors and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

The Red Cross is directing 1.6 million euros of this year’s development cooperation funds to coronavirus-related health work in Africa and Asia. Development cooperation is being carried out with the support of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the donors of the Disaster Relief Fund.

In addition to this, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has allocated one million euros to the international Red Cross COVID-19 Emergency Appeal. The aid is directed to humanitarian aid, mainly in Lebanon.

‘The spread of coronavirus would wreak havoc in countries that have poor or inadequate health services and are already suffering from the effects of poverty, insecurity, conflict or climate change. Action is needed now, while effective work in communities can still slow down the spread of the pandemic and mitigate its effects,’ says Maria Suoheimo, Head of International Programmes at the Finnish Red Cross.

‘Help is particularly needed by the most vulnerable, such as older people, migrants and refugees, the homeless and people with disabilities, who are at greater risk of infection due to lack of information, poor hygiene and limited access to healthcare, among other things.The Finnish Red Cross is particularly focusing on disabled people’s access to information and ability to protect themselves against infection,’ Suoheimo says.

The crisis is also jeopardising the realisation of gender equality.Care work is mainly done by women, so they have an increased risk of infection.The economic downturn is hitting the poor people of the world the hardest, most of whom are women.

In the Red Cross’s relief work, humanitarian aid and development cooperation are closely linked. Launching disaster relief work is easier in countries where the Red Cross has helped communities prepare for crises. Long-term work will mitigate the long-term effects of the pandemic.

Humanitarian aid to Lebanon

The emergency appeal of the international Red Cross will help save lives and strengthen the safety, well-being and livelihoods of the most vulnerable people for the next 12 months.

The operation is focusing on minimising the damage caused by the COVID-19 disease, helping sick people access careand distributing health information, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene work.

The support from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland is mainly being channelled to Lebanon, where the Lebanese Red Cross is providing basic healthcare and is responsible for the safe transport of coronavirus patients in support of the authorities.

‘The conflicts in the Middle East and the large number of refugees are straining the Lebanese healthcare system. The consequences will be very serious if the coronavirus is allowed to spread among the 1.5 million or so Syrian and about 300,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon,’ says Tiina Saarikoski, Head of International Disaster Management at the Finnish Red Cross.

The Finnish Red Cross is also supporting the operation by sending material aid to Lebanon and, if necessary, to Africa.

Trained volunteers playing a key role

The Finnish Red Cross is directing development cooperation towards preparing for and responding to the coronavirus pandemic in Africa. Aid is being provided in the long-term partner countries of Burundi, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Niger, Sierra Leone and Somalia. In addition to this, health work in the Sahel region is being supported.

In Asia, the partner countries in coronavirus work are Afghanistan, Myanmar and Nepal.

Support is being directed to both the international Red Cross relief operation and the country-specific Red Cross and Red Crescent operations. National societies play an important role in the fight against coronavirus in support of the authorities.

‘The strength of the Red Cross are the local volunteers who help people in their communities. With the support of the Finnish Red Cross, thousands of volunteers have been trained in health, hygiene and epidemic prevention as part of health work in Africa and Asia. Now this training and preparation is being put to good use,’ describes Hannele Virtanen, Senior Health Adviser at the Finnish Red Cross.

The actions of the Red Cross vary from country to country. Volunteers are, for example, providing information, supporting the screening for disease cases, assisting people in home care and quarantine and providing psychosocial support to the infected and exposed people and volunteers. Furthermore, the availability of hygiene products, such as handwashing units and soap, is being improved and communication material providing accurate information on the coronavirus is being produced.

‘As coronavirus spreads, it is important to continue carrying out basic health work in Africa and Asia. Measles, for example, can spread worse than coronavirus in many areas if vaccinations are not carried out,’ Virtanen points out.