In 2020, every corner of the globe was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every human on the planet was either directly or indirectly impacted by the pandemic. Countries had to draw up strategies to conform to this new temporary reality and devise quick solutions to confront the challenges. Countries adopted similar policies, such as social distancing measures, curfews, remote work, and online learning. While most businesses had to temporarily close down their doors, or slow down their functions, one of the very few industries that did not have the luxury to do so was the healthcare industry. Whether in a developed or developing country, whether a private or public hospital, their respective infrastructures were not prepared for this pandemic and have faced shortages in their equipment, medicine, and labor.
The most impacted by any disaster is the vulnerable segment of the population. In this article, I am particularly looking at refugees. UNHCR figures state that there are around 26 million refugees in the world, 85% of which are living in developing countries, 80% of which living in areas with dire conditions, and many of which are living in refugee camps.
Refugee camps provide temporary accommodation to refugees and asylum seekers with basic amenities and facilities. In a refugee camp, there is no room for luxury or space, where a tent can typically house a family of four or more. Water and food supplies are scarce. There are no consistent hygienic or sanitary measures put in place. Moreover, there is a rudimentary provision of social services. Therefore, it will not come as a surprise that the pandemic has had devastating effects on the camps. Camps such as the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh, which houses around 600,000 Rohingya refugees are not able to adopt the minimum guidelines for the prevention of the disease. They neither have the space to isolate or to quarantine nor do they have enough water or even soap to practice safe and clean sanitation. Besides the poor infrastructure, health services are already strained in those camps. They were already limited, to begin with, coupled with the stress of the pandemic and other diseases that the occupants may carry or develop, they are unable to meet the demands of the patients. Furthermore, refugees and asylum seekers have overall limited access to healthcare services in their host country.
If hospitals in the developed world are struggling to cater to the needs of the pandemic, how could basic healthcare units in refugee camps cope? And if the host country itself is suffering from shortages, what can be done? Some proposed solutions could be taken into consideration. To start, if the host country’s government is able, it should extend access to its healthcare services to refugees and asylum seekers. Any national intervention or strategy with regards to COVID-19 should include the refugees residing in the camps. Active steps should be taken to ensure that the refugee camps have the necessary supplies such as personal protective equipment, soap, alcohol, and medicine that will aid in slowing the spread of the virus as well as treating it. Moreover, isolation tents could be set up for COVID-19 patients. If the host country is overwhelmed and is unable to aid the refugees, international parties should step in. Now more than ever, international aid is needed to help ease the impact of this humanitarian crisis. Financially-able governments, financial institutions, and international organizations could set up a fund dedicated to ensuring there are no gaps in medical and food supplies. At the same time, they could encourage more healthcare works to station at those camps.
The pandemic has incited considerable stress in every country in the world. It has threatened economies and has disrupted the globalization process. Amidst all of this, we should not forget that some people live in dire circumstances with minimal access to services that can help them overcome these strenuous times.