London, UK, October 14, 2020 — The International Rescue Committee (IRC) highlights encouraging signs from certain crisis-affected states of slowing COVID transmission, with several African and Asian countries reporting lower daily case counts and lower test positivity rates. The African and Asian continents writ large are both seeing a decrease in new cases, with a slowing of COVID growth with countries such as Pakistan, reporting a test positivity rate of just 1.9% in the last week compared to 22% in June. This is proof that investment, including the IRC’s, in strengthening health systems in fragile and developing states -- especially educating communities on prevention, increasing access to water and sanitation services as well as training health workers-- can yield positive results, and merits further investment from the international community as a matter of urgency. The IRC remains concerned however about low levels of testing in some places, such as Mexico, northwest Syria Yemen, Libya and Ethiopia, which continue to obscure the full scale of the outbreak among some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.
Stacey Mearns, Senior Technical Advisor of Emergency Health at the IRC says,
“A combination of factors has contributed to the slowing down of transmission of COVID in these countries. Timely government and humanitarian responses to the disease within local communities, including the IRC’s, have been effective in prevention of further transmission and management of existing cases. On the prevention front, we have provided handwashing stations, intensified provision of water and sanitation services and engaged communities such as Bangladesh where false rumors about disease prevention and symptoms were running rife. In addition, we have trained frontline health workers on COVID-19 protocols, established isolation units as well as equipped hospitals and laboratories with beds, diagnostic kits and other vital machinery. All of this humanitarian response, supported by major donors, has paid off: we’ve seen significant slowing in countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, saving thousands of lives and livelihoods in the process. These measures work and with redoubled financial support from the international community, we can see these gains not only last but take hold in other countries. This virus does not respect borders-- beating it in fragile states means helping defeat it altogether.”
IRC has noted serious declines in COVID cases and death rates in the following countries of operation:
- In Pakistan, increased testing and movement restrictions have helped in slowing transmission. At the peak of COVID-19 in Pakistan in June, test positivity stood at 22%. Now, the test positivity rate is lower than 10% and hospitalisation has also decreased. IRC’s COVID-19 response has so far reached approximately 26 million people through providing emergency health services, supporting economic wellbeing activities and engaging the community on COVID-19 prevention among others. IRC is supporting 3 isolation centres across Pakistan full time, providing services to manage suspected and/or confirmed cases of COVID-19.
- In Afghanistan, the number of new daily confirmed cases at the peak of the pandemic was higher than 750 but daily cases have slowed to less than 50 cases in recent weeks according to government data-- even while testing and access to health services remains low. IRC attributes progress to COVID health communication - IRC has trained more than 180,000 people on COVID prevention messages in all target provinces, along with preventive and local messaging via posters in different languages - as well as health system strengthening. IRC is supporting 100 health facilities in Afghanistan, and has installed 270 handwashing stations at communal gathering points, such as market entrance and exit areas, health centres, bus stations, etc.
- In Nigeria, the Nigeria CDC is educating the public on COVID-19 and the test positivity rate has reduced in the last two weeks from 8.3% to 3.5%. Daily cases have also reduced from a peak of 790 in July to 125 cases at the end of September. However we must be vigilant and ready should this downward trend begin to reverse. Local misinformation appears to persist and testing capacity continues to be relatively low, while consistent. IRC is implementing context-adapted community engagement campaigns that have reached tens of thousands of people per month since March, has equipped target health facilities with PPE and other Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) materials, established referral linkages, trained health care workers, established isolation spaces, installed handwashing stations in local communities and intensified WASH interventions.
- In Bangladesh, although the test positivity rate is still high at 12%, it has been steadily reducing from a peak of 25% in August. The government has initiated telemedicine, increased testing capacity even if it remains inadequate, closed all educational institutes as well as engaged the community on social distancing, using masks, hand hygiene and homecare. IRC ensured health services are open 24/7 and engaged the community in local languages on disease prevention. Early identification and management of patients in IRC-supported health centres also contributed to the reduction of transmission of COVID-19 in our areas.
”These gains are significant but fragile. In countries where we see relatively little testing, such as Afghanistan and Nigeria, we are still unable to fully understand the scale of the outbreak, respond or properly understand what has worked-- even if there are encouraging signs. Having seen some of the benefits of a timely and effective response to COVID-19, more investment from the international community is needed to ensure these gains advance. Transmission is slowing in many countries and we are hopeful that the same continues. We are also looking to continue these services by engaging communities on the importance of adhering to restrictions that can support COVID-19 prevention and the use of PPE. However, in countries like Libya - as well as in northeast and northwest Syria – there is still a long way to go to before the situation is brought under control. The virus is spreading quickly and the situation is deteriorating rapidly. There is an urgent need to scale up the response to prevent further loss of life.”
The IRC has launched a US $30 million appeal to help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations. We are working across three key areas: to mitigate and respond to the spread of coronavirus within vulnerable communities; protect IRC staff; and ensure the continuation of our life-saving programming as much as possible across more than 40 countries worldwide.
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.