As part of our mission of providing humanitarian aid in times of crisis, The Pfizer Foundation is proud to partner with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an organization at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities, helping people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future. The IRC has decades of experience responding to urgent health situations, providing funding, and offering integrated immunization, family planning, and other basic health services that often are at risk of disruption in vulnerable communities during crises.
Now, those communities are facing the coronavirus.
Over the past few months, as the COVID-19 pandemic has spread, the IRC is seeing significant disruptions in the delivery of life-saving healthcare services in the countries where they work. This includes the direct impact of COVID-19 on under-resourced health systems and communities that have already suffered from war and humanitarian disasters, as well as the secondary threat the disease is causing to these settings’ already fragile humanitarian, security and political environments.1
Since the onset of the pandemic, early media reports detailed alarming stories about local shortages of ventilators, ill-equipped intensive care units, and lack of protective equipment. In many developing countries, those shortages existed before coronavirus. One study found that nearly half (46%) of people in South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen lack access to even the most basic and essential health services.2
Making matters even more challenging are living conditions where weak infrastructure and overcrowding can make basic measures like social distancing or regular hand washing nearly impossible. Many refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), migrants and other marginalized populations live in informal, overcrowded settlements. For example, the population in al-Hol camp in Syria increased seven-fold in 2019 to 68,000 people residing within a total area of just 1.82km². This makes it almost four times more densely populated than New York City, significantly increasing the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak that would spread with lightning speed.3
To support the needs of these communities’ during the COVID-19 emergency, The Pfizer Foundation is proud to support the IRC’s work to help prevent the spread of the virus through a comprehensive strategy of infection prevention and control, fever testing and contact tracing, and community engagement and education. The IRC is also continuing to treat the health needs of local host communities, bringing basic health services including immunizations, women’s health and malnutrition treatment to hard-to-reach areas, while also continuing vital livelihood services including education and economic support.
"While COVID-19 is wreaking havoc globally, refugees and displaced populations are suffering disproportionately,” said Caroline Roan, President, The Pfizer Foundation and Vice President, Global Health & Patient Access, Pfizer Inc. “Through our longstanding partnership with the International Rescue Committee, we are confident that this new support will provide immediate health relief to some of the most vulnerable and hardest-hit communities facing the health risks of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Pfizer Foundation’s work with the IRC is part of a larger commitment to humanitarian relief at home and across the globe, to help high-risk communities receive the funds, medicine, and expertise necessary to meet priority health needs. These specific efforts build on The Pfizer Foundation’s existing efforts with the IRC to strengthen healthcare systems for the world’s most vulnerable populations. For example, the IRC and The Pfizer Foundation are also working in collaboration with the Jordanian Ministry of Health to launch an innovative health delivery model to provide essential primary health services to refugees in Jordan.
“COVID-19 poses a tremendous risk to the immediate and long-term health of people in humanitarian contexts, which already have severely weakened health systems from years of conflict and instability. At the IRC, we are implementing a comprehensive response plan to save lives from the direct impact of the pandemic, and to mitigate the secondary impacts of the outbreak,” said Dr. Mesfin Teklu Tessema, Senior Direct of Health at the IRC. “The Pfizer Foundation’s support – historically but especially now – is critical to helping meet the health needs of displaced people around the world.”
“These are not normal times,” said Caroline Roan. “We know our partners and patients are relying on us to support their critical work to fight COVID-19 around the world – especially in vulnerable settings. We are committed to helping however we can and are proud of the work and commitment of the IRC.”
NOTE: The Pfizer Foundation is a charitable organization established by Pfizer Inc. It is a separate legal entity from Pfizer Inc. with distinct legal restrictions.
1,2,3 IRC Report COVID-19 Double Emergency April 2020.pdf