Polish NGO “working harder than ever” to protect most vulnerable in war-torn countries from COVID-19
With COVID-19 ravaging lives across the globe, those living in countries blighted by war are more exposed than ever.
When the killer virus officially appeared in Yemen on 10 April 2020, organizations called it a “nightmare scenario” given the country’s already dire humanitarian situation and extreme vulnerability due to the ongoing civil war.
With many healthcare facilities destroyed by airstrikes and shelling, and with a severe lack of healthcare workers, the country’s healthcare system has been all but decimated.
In response, one of Poland’s biggest NGOs, Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH, Polska Akcja Humanitarna), has gone into overdrive.
Rafał Grzelewski, PAH Spokesperson, told TFN: “We have adapted, expanded and intensified our activities in all of our missions as a covid-19 response because our beneficiaries are especially vulnerable to this virus.
“The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the world’s largest since World War II. More than three-quarters of the Yemeni population, 24.1 million people are in need.
“They include in particular the inhabitants of remote regions and children. It is a critical moment for millions of Yemenis.
“Our involvement and solidarity may enable us to begin providing permanent, indispensable aid for the Yemenis together.”
In addition to rebuilding and equipping a local clinic, PAH’s team has also recruited doctors and nurses as well as provide access to safe water, medicines, medical supplies and laboratory equipment.
Grzelewski said: “PAH generally specializes in building wells and other water access points, as well as toilets and latrines.
“We distribute hygiene kits containing the most important products. Therefore these are activities that serve as preventive measures against many diseases, including covid-19.
“In Yemen, PAH’s supporting a local health centre where we have organized training for the staff and distributed protective items such as gloves and masks.
“It’s important to note that over half of the health facilities in Yemen have been destroyed during the war, so if there was a coronavirus outbreak, the local healthcare system would not be able to treat the patients.”
Yemen is just one of seven locations where PAH is currently operational. Others include Somalia, South Sudan, Iraq and Ukraine where those living near the front line are particularly vulnerable.
Grzelewski said: “They’re especially vulnerable to coronavirus, so it’s crucial to keep them at home.
“Right now we’re reaching them in their homes with food and hygiene-kits.
“Those who need psycho-social support are being contacted on the phone instead of participating in group sessions.”
A recent Facebook post shows the head of Ukrainian operations Pavlo Ustenko and his team checking 2,800 food packages that are to be delivered to those most in need.
“The packages were delivered to elderly people’s homes to help prevent possible exposure to the deadly virus.”
Set up in 1992 to provide aid those affected by the war in Sarajevo, Kosovo, Belgrade, Skopje and Tuzla, to date PAH has helped over 9.6 million people in 44 countries.
Recently the NGO turned its attention to the Greek island of Lesbos where news of a confirmed case of Covid-19 last month sparked fears of an outbreak at the overcrowded Moria refugee camp, where refugees live in dire conditions with appalling hygiene and little medical care.
PAH said: “Overcrowding and lack of access to clean water, hygiene products and medical care make the residents of the refugee camps in southern Greece particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Together with a local partner, we are active in the Moria camp, which currently accommodates almost 20,000 people.
“Our assistance includes installing hand washing facilities, equipping local clinic with masks and disposable gloves, and providing hygiene products to those most in need.
“We will also conduct hygiene trainings and an awareness campaign on preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
“In this difficult time, we are working even harder.
“The assistance provided by PAH is particularly important during the ongoing pandemic since we specialise in water, sanitation and hygiene activities, i.e. those areas that are directly responsible for disease prevention.”