Oxfam is deeply concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on poorer countries with weaker health systems, places where people are already facing multiple threats to their health and livelihood. We are especially concerned about the disease hitting refugee camps and communities where people struggle to access adequate and affordable health care.
Oxfam has substantial experience in public health work and our preparedness planning for COVID-19 is informed by lessons learned from past outbreaks including Zika and Ebola, and we are taking critical steps to protect people in the communities we serve as well as safeguarding our staff and those on the front lines of the coronavirus response.
We are working with our partners, government ministries of health, and key UN agencies in 65 countries to determine how best to respond. Given our expertise in public health, and water and sanitation, many of our teams are increasing their delivery of soap and sanitation services, including handwashing facilities and clean water–especially to people in higher-risk areas. We’re also helping people minimize the risk of infection by providing them with accurate information and advice in their language.
We know women are likely to be hit hardest, as they make up 70% of the world’s health care workers and are on the front line of infection risk. Women also shoulder the vast burden of unpaid care, which is bound to increase dramatically as caring for sick relatives and looking after children at home becomes more urgent.
Oxfam is also concerned that the economic effects of COVID-19 will likely hit the poorest, most heavily-indebted countries and the poorest, most vulnerable people heaviest because of entrenched issues of inequality. It is crucial that the international community support these poorer countries now in making the strongest-possible preparations.
As an international organization, we have a comprehensive COVID-19 Staff Health protocol. We have socialized best practice procedures for all our staff to follow in hygiene and infection management and we are providing time-sensitive updates to our staff, including on travel restrictions, self-isolation advice and contingency planning in the event of office closures. We have had to cancel some staff deployments to avoid the risk of transmission and to avoid staff from being blocked from returning from assignments.
Oxfam has had some delay and cost increases of essential life-saving equipment especially as exports tighten from Asia. Because our programs are predominately managed by national staff, and because we hold reserves and procure our goods and services locally where possible, we are hoping to minimize disruptions. However, we are certainly expecting that our operations will be increasingly affected.