DRC continues life-saving assistance in IraqDRC staff in Iraq are working to find ways to continue delivering life-saving assistance to those most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19.
As numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to rise globally, Iraq has entered into a country-wide lockdown to contain the spread of the virus.
More than 1.4 million people remain internally displaced in the country, many living in overcrowded camps and still more in out-of-camp settlements with limited access to water, sanitation and hygiene.
With restricted access to safe housing and healthcare, internally displace people (IDPs) are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and now, more than ever are in urgent need of humanitarian support.
COVID-19 has made life harder in camps
In HTC camp in Anbar in western Iraq, DRC staff are working to protect IDPs from the spread of the virus and to maintain essential services. The camp is currently home to 2,869 individuals, most of whom fled their homes seeking safety during the recent conflict with ISIS.
Ali is from Anbar and started working with DRC as a community mobiliser in HTC Camp in January this year. He explains that the pandemic has life in the camps harder.
"Food prices have increased and there are shortages of stock due to the restrictions put on transport and movement. The camp has a big population but there are limited safety resources and it’s dangerous.The hygiene facilities here are limited and most people don’t have access to gloves or masks. At the moment we don’t have any cases of the virus here, but if it happens then the infection would spread very quickly, it would be a humanitarian crisis," says Ali.
DRC continues assistance with resident staff
The lockdown in Iraq means that many NGO staff in organisations across the country are unable to travel to work, at a time when the need for humanitarian assistance is greater than ever. In order to continue delivering life-saving aid to the most vulnerable, DRC has been working with its camp resident staff.
Ali explains the importance of his role as a community mobiliser:
"As community mobilisers, we are the link between the residents and the camp management. It’s my job to understand the needs of the camp residents and make sure these are passed on to camp management. We help to improve living conditions inside the camp and solve any problems that people might be facing. I work inside the camp, meeting with families to understand their needs and to run awareness-raising sessions."
Camp residents are very vulnerable to COVID-19
In order to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in the camp and to ensure that vulnerable residents can stay safe and access humanitarian assistance, DRC is continuing to manage camp coordination and delivery of essential services, including protection and the coordination of essential services like Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), food, health and education within HTC camp.
DRC teams have also been collaborating with a local health centre to disseminate important risk awareness messages to help prevent the spread of the virus. This includes a mass SMS campaign distributed to camp residents with messages about good hygiene and social distancing practices.
IDP populations face additional challenges in the face of a COVID-19 outbreak, such as lower levels of nutrition, which reduce the immune system’s ability to fight disease, crowded living conditions and restricted access to sanitation, protective equipment and medical care. In these conditions, it becomes more important than ever to prevent an outbreak.
Awareness-raising sessions led by DRC in HTC camp are playing an important role in disseminating information about the virus, its transmission, associated health hazards and precautionary measures needed to avoid an outbreak. Trust is a key part of ensuring that these messages are accepted by the local community.
We are all in this together
Awareness raising sessions run by local, camp-based community mobilisers like Ali, help to build trust and ensure that messages are adopted by camp residents as Ali explains:
"We have been running regular awareness-raising sessions for all the camp residents to teach them how to stay safe and prevent the disease from coming into the camp. We teach children and the entire families the right way to wash their hands, we explain the benefit of wearing face masks and gloves and talk about how to sneeze or cough in a safe way to stop the spread of germs. We’ve also been putting up posters and leaflets which deliver the same messages in a way that’s easy to understand. This work is important to keep people safe and healthy and to prevent the virus from reaching the camp," says Ali and continues:
"Those who have come to an awareness raising session have taken steps to protect themselves; stopping gathering in groups and not kissing each other or shaking hands in traditional greeting. A few residents have been able to buy gloves and masks, other people have been staying inside their tents to keep safe and not get infected. But other camp residents don’t believe in the existence of the virus or they don’t think the infection will reach the camp, so it’s important for us to carry on running awareness raising sessions to reach these people and help them understand the situation. We are all in this together."
DRC camp-based staff run awareness-raising sessions on COVID-19 with IDPs in HTC camp in Anbar, Iraq.