Coronavirus: to adapt the humanitarian response during an emergency


The global coronavirus epidemic forces many sectors of activity to slow down and adapt their functioning. The humanitarian sector is not an exception. Like other NGOs, Première Urgence Internationale is shifting its actions and programs throughout the world, like it already did in response to previous regional outbreaks. The priority is to protect health workers and the population, while ensuring the continuity of essential care.

© Thibault Savary / Première Urgence Internationale

Première Urgence Internationale’s teams are intervening on a daily basis alongside millions of people, in 22 countries, over 4 continents, and especially in areas where healthcare systems are already saturated, weakened by protracted conflicts or natural disasters. Given the extent of the global Covid-19 outbreak, and the speed of pandemic spread, exceptional measures must be taken in all countries of intervention, to mitigate and minimise the risks.

To slow the spread of the virus

“Ensuring humanitarian assistance during an outbreak is first and foremost: to make sure that our teams, especially health workers, are properly protected and respect preventive measures. In order to avoid the increase of the epidemic spread”, exposes Timothée Le Guellec, Water, sanitation and hygiene Advisor.

Preventive instructions of social distancing and more stringent hygiene rules are obviously strictly enforced by all Première Urgence Internationale’s teams, on the missions and at the headquarters. This means also a significant increase of water’s quantities available every day, as well as the revision of procedures: cleaning frequency and waste management in healthcare centers, in order to ensure impeccable hygienic conditions.

Like many other organisations did, one of the first measures taken by Première Urgence Internationale was to first reduce and then stop human movements. All international, national and local travels have been suspended until further notice. Repatriation of some employees, stuck in transit between borders being shut off, have been managed on a case by case basis. “At global level, there is a general closure of border crossings. It will become even more complicated for us to operate, and we are all aware of this”, Olivier Routeau analyses, Operational Director.

Focus on critical activities

All missions are currently working on adapting temporarily the nature of their operations. In the coming weeks, Première Urgence Internationale will be trying to focus efforts on an emergency response to Covid-19, while ensuring the continuity of essential programs and activities against other deadly morbidities, viral or bacterial (Ebola, measles, cholera…).

We have a solid expertise in responding to outbreaks, especially the prevention and control part”, adds Timothée Le Guellec. “In Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, we lead for over 1 year a project dedicated to prevention against the Ebola outbreak, in order to help contain the virus and prevent it from spreading. In this context, we developed several tools and emergency response capacities, adapted to this kind of outbreaks.” All missions of the NGO are now working on operational continuity plans, making the best use of these prevention tools.

Sensitising and relaying key messages

Covid-19 is one of the emerging virus that present new risks and have unknown effects, different from those already known and identified. In this context, sanitary instructions and advices are evolving on a daily basis. Humanitarian teams always rely on the latest technical guidelines, and make sure to share reliable informations as often as possible.

In healthcare centers and in informal settlements where Première Urgence Internationale intervenes, as in Lebanon and in Irak, teams put in place specific awareness activities regarding Covid-19. “We try not to crowd healthcare structures, but rather to play an advocacy role, to spread the central and crucial messages and also make sure that rumours won’t proliferate”, stands Olivier Routeau.

 

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