"In these days we must not only look at Germany and Europe. Corona will hit poor regions all over the world particularly hard. It therefore needs immediate help," says Anne Jung, health officer at medico international.
For over 50 years, medico, as a socio-medical aid and human rights organisation, has been working for the right to the best possible access to health - with partner organisations on three continents. Our partners work tirelessly for and with all those for whom globalised capitalism does not allow beds in hospitals, visits to doctors or vaccinations. They fight for a comprehensive public health system, accessible to all people, regardless of income or origin.
The corona pandemic is putting these structures to the test. We can only guess the damage it will cause in the countries of the Global South, in slums and overcrowded refugee camps. Everywhere where the nearest doctor, the nearest hospital is not available or not affordable.
The pandemic is a crisis of global health. And it already has far-reaching political and economic consequences. For example, a Pakistani trade union supporting medico reports that textile factories are all on the verge of closing down and unprecedented mass unemployment is expected. The state has no means whatsoever of absorbing the expected social disaster.
medico's partner organisations throughout the world now need solidarity and immediate support for comprehensive preventive measures, for the provision of protective equipment and for their political fight against poverty and ill health and for the right to a healthy and good life.
The outbreak of acorona epidemic would have devastating consequences in the refugee camps around Idlib: Dozens of hospitals in the region have been deliberately destroyed in air raids by the Assad regime and Russia, there is no longer an adequate health infrastructure. Millions of people live in camps, informal camps or simply in the open air. They have no possibility to carry out hygiene that could protect against the virus, not to mention "social distancing".
The medico partners from the women's centre in Idlib City react to the threat as best they can. Having already provided humanitarian aid to hundreds of families in recent months, they are now taking corona prevention into their own hands. In workshops, the centre's staff members explain the symptoms of the virus and give tips on how to protect themselves from infection under the impossible conditions of war. This is the only way they can protect the population, the head of the centre, Huda Khayti, tells us: "The spread must be prevented as best as possible, they are not equipped for anything else.
In Lebanon, the corona epidemic has greatly exacerbated the state and financial crisis that has been ongoing for months. So far, more than one hundred COVID_19 diseases have been registered. The government reacts with curfews until the end of March, Beirut airport and all ports are closed, the border to Syria is sealed. Once again almost everything is turned upside down overnight.
Even before the state crisis that gripped the country in the course of the protests against corruption and the political patronage system, the health system was more than undersupplied. Workers in hospitals and health centres have been waiting for months for salaries and have repeatedly threatened to strike. The colleagues of the medico partner organisation AMEL reported this to us repeatedly even before Corona.
AMEL is a non-denominational health organisation that has been supplying tens of thousands of Syrian refugees living in informal camps with its mobile clinics for years. Last summer, the government banned the people from building more solid housing in the camps. Forced to demolish their makeshift shelters, the people endure cold and snow in simple tents.
Under these conditions, AMEL provides vital support where the bankrupt state fails and continues o do so. With medico-support, all mobile teams are currently being equipped with protective clothing, face masks and disinfectants so that they can maintain their normal health work and provide corona care. Virginie Lefèvre from AME tells us that the staff are particularly worried about the already precarious situation in the informal refugee camps.
The situation in Kenya has worsened in the last few days after the first corona cases occurred. Officially there are not many yet, but there are hardly any tests. Erick Otieno from the medico partner organisation KAPLET is very concerned. He speaks of a "disaster in waiting". The Kenyan schools are closed, all children are at home - and playing in the streets.
It is simply impossible for the people in the slums to simply stay at home, says Erick. They live from hand to mouth and every day of (self-)isolation means a day without work, i.e. without income. There is no social security. Added to this is the narrowness and lack of water supply in the slums of Nairobi. Conditions under which a virus can spread quickly.
KAPLET staff have been fighting for years in the poor communities of Nairobi for the right to health. In the slums, in which they partly live themselves, medical help is hardly accessible and the living conditions endanger the health of the inhabitants every day. In view of the threat of the corona virus, we are in contact with them about possible support for an awareness campaigns.
Already on 1 March, the independent government of north-east Syria closed its only border crossing into Iraq for normal traffic. Only NGO employees and goods traffic can still cross the border on certain days. Since then, the medico partner organisation Kurdish Red Crescent has been preparing as best as it can for an outbreak of the corona epidemic. It is also in exchange with the WHO.
Prevention campaigns are underway, all public buildings are closed and quarantine stations are being prepared in hospitals. From the outset, the self-organised health system in Rojava has aimed to ensure that the entire population receives health care at the lowest possible cost. The health workers have been working on this - also with the support of medico for years.
Nevertheless, should the virus break out in one of the large refugee camps, they too are powerless, says Sherwan Bery of the Kurdish Red Crescent. Although the emergency helpers are trained to quickly isolate people with tuberculosis, they have nothing against a large scale spread - especially in these humanitarian precarious times: It was only at the beginning of the year that the United Nations closed the only border access through which UN humanitarian aid arrived in the region. If the coronavirus spreads, the consequences will be disastrous, because aid must now come through Damascus. And the Syrian regime is still not taking the Corona threat seriously.
In addition, the only two testing devices in north-eastern Syria that can be used to test people for the corona virus were stored in the hospital in Serê Kaniyê. And this hospital has been under Turkish occupation since October, in violation of international law, and it seems impossible to hand over these devices to the autonomy administration.
"We are governed by an irresponsible and inconsistent president. The government is concerned about the economic consequences, but there are few measures to protect the poor population: informal workers, small farmers, small businesses. It's an extremely worrying scenario." This news reaches us from the Brazilian landless movement MST, with which medico has long been associated.
School lessons, in door events and permission for demonstrations in public places have been suspended in Brazil. The MST has also closed its "school of the movement" near São Paulo for the time being. The activists are worried about the people in the acampamentos, the land occupations, where thousands of families live in poor conditions but well organized. Now they are trying, as best they can, to take preventive measures against the spread of the coronavirus.
However, if, as is to be feared, the disease does spread in Brazil, there will be far from sufficient care facilities available. When the Mais Médicos program ended last year, 15,000 Cuban doctors who were deployed in the poor regions returned and are missing now. The decades of neglect of the public health system and the state's preference for private health insurers will also take its toll.
The alternative news project Outras Palavras, supported by medico, provides information about the coronavirus and its effects on Brazil and the world in daily articles and its own reports. The specialist editors of the Outra Saúde subpage, which was designed with medico, send out the Brazil's only independent newsletter devoted exclusively to health policy on a daily basis.
On March 17, hundreds of people demonstrated in the Nigerian capital Niamey against massive corruption in the state apparatus. Three people died in the protests. Moussa Tchangari of the medico partner organisation Alternative Espaces Citoyens was arrested along with seven other activists during a demonstration. This is not the first time that the critical activist has been arrested. The Nigerian government uses the Corona pandemic as jsutification and is thus abusing it to ban legitimate protest.
Other major public events in the government's interest, however, continue to take place. This upset many demonstrators even more. Because not a single case of corona in the country is known so far. Even before that, the government had used the pandemic to take action against the journalist Mamane Kaka Touda, who had reported about a suspected corona case in a hospital in Niamey. Touda also works for the government-critical radio Alternative FM of the medico-partner AEC.
On 15 March, President Ramaphosa declared a national emergency, ordered the closure of schools and universities and other movement restrictions. So far, COVID-19 cases in the country are still low and mostly introduced by people who had entered from Europe, Australia or China. It is feared, however, that the virus will soon spread in the country and spread to the poor communities. The South African partner organisations of medico international warn of the consequences.
The community facilitators of Sinani are extremely concerned about the possible consequences of a spread of the corona virus in the townships and rural communities. There, the Community Health Workers are the ones who work most closely with the population and know about the local conditions of health care. Small houses, overcrowded minibuses and lack of access to water are some examples.
Even without the virus, many public health facilities in South Africa are unable to meet the demand. The health system is very poorly equipped for the pandemic and is already overburdened with tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and multi-resistant germs for which the usual antibiotics are no longer effective. Community Health Workers themselves are also at extreme risk, as they are already working without protective equipment such as masks and gloves and are being affected by tuberculosis in increasing numbers.
The medico partner organisations Khanya College and the Gauteng Community Health Worker Forum have started corona education via social media and are mobilising their activists. The health organisation section27 demands protective equipment for health workers, provides information and offers legal protection in the context of the corona crisis. The organisation also wants to focus on the human rights implications of the virus and its impact on the health system. Former section27 staff members, Mark Heywood and Anso Thom, are preparing an ongoing dossier on Corona as part of the Daily Maverick electronic media project and are monitoring the political and human rights dimensions of the epidemic.
Where state institutions fail to protect the rights of people and offer public services, people must organise themselves to stand up for their rights and find own support. This is exactly what Congolese migrants did in Morocco in 2005. With their organisation ARCOM, they stand up for the rights of refugees in Morocco, no matter where they come from.
The founding of ARCOM was a reaction to the securitisation of the border fences around the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, as a result of which transit through Morocco became an involuntary permanent residence for many people from sub-Saharan Africa and other countries. The situation for sub-Saharan refugees in Morocco is difficult. Especially for women who are pregnant or travelling with small children.
ARCOM has rented four apartments for them in Rabat, where the women can temporarily stay with their children. Currently, 26 women and 20 children live there, many of them are still babies. ARCOM provides them with one meal a day as well as support in visiting doctors and authorities, in finding jobs and in the form of literacy and language courses.
In order to protect the women and children admitted and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, ARCOM, the medico partner organisation, has decided not to admit anyone new for the time being. Stricter hygienic rules were introduced in the apartments and information about corona prevention was provided. This is because even those who do not have their own home and no or very limited access to the health system are a vulnerable risk group.