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COVID-19 Crisis

Rosa Panggabean / Oxfam

Oxfam is working with partners in more than 50 countries and here in the US to meet the needs of those who are suffering the worst impacts.

We know too well that when a crisis hits, the poorest and most marginalized communities suffer the worst effects. From our experience with other outbreaks, such as Ebola, the Zika virus, and other diseases, we know that working directly with communities to ensure they have access to the right information and are involved in decisions that affect their lives is critical. We are also relying on our experience helping at-risk communities with access to clean water, soap, and good hygiene practices.

Here in the US, we know low-wage workers have few resources to weather a disaster like this. That’s why we are calling on federal and state legislators to urgently provide for paid sick leave, free coronavirus testing, and food assistance for low-income families and children. As the economy takes a staggering blow, we need to make immediate, large-scale investments that benefit working families and provide sensible, sustainable economic stimulus. We’re also working through partner organizations in Mississippi and Louisiana, Puerto Rico, and Appalachia to provide emergency grants that offer direct, immediate relief to people in need.


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Oxfam is working with local organizations and others to help vulnerable people reduce their risk of disease.

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Stories & updates

How is Oxfam responding to the pandemic?

We are deeply concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on countries with weaker health systems–places where people are already facing multiple threats to their health and livelihood. We are especially worried about the disease hitting countries that are already experiencing a humanitarian crisis, or in camps for refugees and internally displaced people, where people already struggle to access clean water, nutritious food, health care, safe shelter, and other basics that could help protect them from the disease. The impact could be devastating in crowded camps and urban areas.

We are working with our partners, government health ministries, and key UN agencies in more than 50 countries to determine how best to respond to the crisis (despite limitations on travel in some areas), especially given our expertise in public health, water, and sanitation. Many of our staff and partners are increasing the delivery of soap, clean water, and sanitation services, including building and upgrading hand-washing facilities with a special focus on people in higher-risk areas and at health facilities.

Oxfam's team in Myanmar is working closely with our partners to scale up our humanitarian assistance in over 100 displacement camps in Kachin and Rakhine states. In Kachin, Oxfam partners are distributing soap, have built more than 150 hand washing stations to date and are delivering health education and training in camps for people displaced by long-standing conflict. In Rakhine state, Oxfam is working with our consortium partner Solidarités International to promote good hygiene practices and raises awareness in local languages, build 1,000 additional hand washing stations and distribute 17,000 additional pieces of soap every month, along with other hygiene materials, in confined camps where displaced Rohingya and Kaman Muslims have been living since 2012.

As Syrians enter the 10th year since the outbreak of conflict, they are facing the grim reality of COVID-19. In response, Oxfam is seeking approvals for a mass-media campaign, and scaling up the provision of clean water in the most at-risk communities. The first phase of our COVID-19 plan aims to reach more than 100,000 people directly.

In the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, Oxfam has already carried out awareness sessions on the pandemic and proper hand washing with more than 2,000 children. With Jordan now in complete lockdown and access to the camp limited, all agencies are focusing on hygiene awareness messages and campaigns using WhatsApp groups to promote health and hygiene.

Oxfam is supporting health facilities in Iraq by pre-positioning hygiene and infection control materials. We have also started public health awareness campaigns.

In Yemen, families and communities have endured more than five years of conflict, which has left the health system in ruins, and has pushed vital resources like clean water, safe shelter, and proper nutrition out of reach for many. Oxfam's Yemen country team is preparing to respond with public health promotion specifically on COVID-19 prevention including training for community health volunteers to engage in community awareness campaigns, and support to health facilities with hygiene care materials.

Oxfam and our partners in Afghanistan are incorporating COVID-19 awareness-raising messages into our ongoing humanitarian response, which includes distributing food and cash to families, and supplies to support farmers.

In Mozambique, where families are still recovering from Cyclone Idai one year ago, Oxfam and partners are working to combat misinformation about COVID-19 and to raise awareness of prevention and treatment with the help of community volunteers.

An outbreak in Gaza would have tremendous consequences as the health system is already collapsing prior to COVID-19 and more than half of the population are living under the poverty line. Oxfam is providing 100 beds and hygiene kits to quarantine centers in Gaza, as well as hygienic protective clothing, hand washing facilities, and sterilization materials for 750 medical staff working in 15 non-governmental medical centers. We also are working with the World Health Organization and UNICEF to support a public-health campaign across the Occupied Palestine Territory.

In Pakistan we have installed water tanks at a center where people are being quarantined.

Some of our 20 affiliate Oxfams are also considering a response or have already been responding, for example in China and Hong Kong. Oxfam Italy has launched a domestic appeal to fund protective equipment for health workers like gloves, ventilating machines for hospitals and support for Italian teachers to work online.

Women everywhere are likely to be disproportionately affected by this pandemic. Women represent 70 percent of health-care workers and provide most of the unpaid care work to sick family members—a burden likely to increase dramatically in the coming weeks and months. Women are likely to be more vulnerable to getting sick, and those who are already suffering from domestic violence are likely to be confined to households where they are in danger. In our experience, women and marginalized groups are usually also excluded from decision-making spaces for the design and implementation of policies that directly affect them, and the response to this pandemic may not be any different. In the US, for example, the White House COVID-19 Task Force is comprised of 20 men and 2 women.

COVID-19’s effect in the US

Oxfam America has extensive experience working with vulnerable communities in the United States, and we are advocating to ensure that the most vulnerable are not disproportionately affected here at home.

How is Oxfam helping people in the US?

In North Carolina, we are partnering with a center that represents workers in the hospitality and the poultry industry. Nearly all of the workers there were recruited from Central America to fill jobs no one else wanted: They process chicken, work in kitchens, and clean hotel rooms. They support families, pay taxes, belong to churches, and schools – they are the backbone of their industries. Nearly all workers in the hospitality industry have been laid off and aren’t eligible for unemployment or the emergency stimulus.

We are also supporting the efforts of the Western North Carolina Workers’ Center which is distributing cash assistance to workers who have been laid off, as well as disseminating health and safety information, conducting a needs assessment among members, and pressuring companies that are still operational to promote safe workplace practices.

In Jackson, Mississippi, we are partnering with the Refill Jackson Initiative and have designed a mechanism to provide monetary support to restaurant workers who are in a precarious financial position now that restaurants have closed.

In Louisiana, we are working with the Power Coalition in New Orleans to provide gift cards for distribution, donating 50 Chromebooks to students across the state who don’t have adequate access to technology, and collecting and disseminating accurate information to communities (including providing translations in Spanish and Vietnamese).

Oxfam is working with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) in Los Angeles, California, an organization that supports migrant and low-wage workers and day laborers – some of the most vulnerable communities during this crisis. NDLON will be providing direct cash assistance to workers, launching an education campaign, assisting their worker center network, and creating and/or amplifying safe ways for workers to generate income.

What are Oxfam’s concerns for asylum seekers and immigrants?

We are especially concerned for asylum seekers and immigrants who are already under attack from the xenophobic policies of the Trump administration.

We join allies across the country in calling on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to suspend all immigration enforcement actions, including, but not limited to, at and around medical centers and hospitals to avoid separating families, spreading the virus, and deterring people from seeking care here in the US. The Trump administration must also end the inhumane and costly use of immigration detention, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. DHS detention facilities are especially vulnerable to the spread of the virus due to well-documented substandard conditions, over-crowding, and poor and infrequent access to healthcare. ICE must expedite the immediate release of people in high-risk categories for COVID-19, including people above the age of 60, people with pre-existing conditions, pregnant people, and people who are immune-compromised.

The administration’s announcement that it will shut the US-Mexico border to all non-essential travel in response to COVID-19 risks sending people seeking asylum into harms way. Seeking refuge from violence and persecution is the very definition of essential travel. The US has the obligation to respect the international legal principle of non-refoulement, which mandates that states cannot return people to a territory where they may be exposed to persecution. The US has the capacity to protect public health without violating its legal obligation to uphold the right to seek asylum.

Sandy Stowe/Oxfam

Working with dignity and compassion

COVID-19 is a powerful reminder that we all deserve to be treated equally and with dignity and compassion. No individual, community, or country can deal with this crisis alone. We must work together, in our communities and across borders. As we all take steps to protect our loved ones and families, we also need to look beyond ourselves and take decisive steps to reduce the risks and threats faced by others.

You can help Oxfam reduce the risk of COVID-19 to those most vulnerable.

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