Aisha sits in front of a drab green tent in a camp set up for migrants near the Costa Rican border with Nicaragua. It is the rainy season, just as it would be 9,200 kilometers away inAisha’s home in West Africa. Her journey has been full of tragedy, even before the moment two-years ago, when she decided out of sheer panic to flee her country. She’s passed through Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and now here to this little outpost.
Smugglers, drug traffickers, seemingly impassible jungles –the journey would be hard enough under normal circumstances. Add to that the coronavirus.Migrants like Aisha travel through some of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic – Colombia, Brazil, Panama and Mexico among others – in order to reach the US, which has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the world.
But thebiggest impact of Covid-19 on the lives of migrants has been their ability to move at all. They can no longer transit through government checkpoints. In critical passage areas, migrants are told to stay put until the crisis passes. In Panama, they generally congregate informally in small towns, while in Costa Rica, they often live in government provided temporary shelters where groups such as theRed Crossprovide services. Those who choose to avoid official checkpoints and shelters run the risk of even more abuse.
In places like these, the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations make an effort to keep people in the present. There are multiple activities: volleyball, football, calls to home, as well ascritical services such as food and hygiene kits, psychological support and health and hygiene promotion.
In the absence of movement, memory takes over. Aisha thinks of home. It is the place where, until only a month or so before she fled, she had no plans beyond her work as a sociologist, her relationship with her husband in the military and raising her daughter. Now she is so afraid of what might happen to her if she returns to her country, she asks that her real name not be revealed.
A summer of fear
In the summer of 2018, Aisha’s husband told her that he was fed up with his military life. One day he was sent on a mission, but his unit deserted instead. “They knew that by refusing an order, they were running the risk of being killed,” Aisha says.
The husband (Aisha asked that his name be withheld for his safety) calculated that he would be arrested at the airport if he tried to flee by air. And so, in September 2018, he reached out to the smugglers’ networks and left on a one-month journeyby boat to Colombia.
Men came to visit Aisha with increasing frequency. She didn’t know the visitors who said they were her husband’s “friends,” enquiring as to his whereabouts. “I understood that they were military personnel in civilian clothes,” she says. “I feared for my life and my daughter’s life.”
The plan was to go to Brazil with her 2-year-old daughter Leila and then move onwards to Colombia to meet her husband. “In my country, the Brazilian visa is the fastest you can get,” she said. “My request was easily granted. Since I am a sociologist, I told the authorities that I was going to Brazil to deepen my knowledge of Brazilian culture.”
An American dream
United Nations officials say that Europe’s crackdown on migrant crossing through its borders, along with reports of enslavement in Libya, left smugglers searching for other routes into the West’s most developed countries. Since 2015,smuggling networks outside of the Americasbegan to explore the long and extremely dangerous route through Latin America to the US and Canada.
For many African migrants, that means they first have to cross an ocean. Samuel, 45, is a barber from Northern Nigeria who had a dream to cut hair in America. He was willing to pay any price, even tempt death in order to live his dream.
In 2016, he made his way from Lake Chad to the Nigerian coast where he was smuggled aboard a ship bound for Colombia. When he boarded, the smuggler told him that he had a50 percent chance of survival. During the three-month journey he found himself alternatively seasick and starving. That was until the captain of the ship found Samuel in the hold and threatened to throw him into the ocean. It took a concerted intervention by several crewmembers to save his life.
After he landed in Colombia, Samuel (he has asked that his full name not be used) had to confront smugglers, drug traffickers, seemingly impassible jungles – the journey was hard enough until he got to the U.S. border. There, he was apprehended and placed in detention for seven months before being deported back to Nigeria.
But Samuel’s dream was not extinguished. By 2019, after saving up enough moneyto make the journey again, he was back in Latin America, attempting to make his way northward. Forced by circumstance to remain in Costa Rica, Samuel began again to re-dream his existence. He remembered a talk he had with a border official four years earlier in Costa Rica. “All migrants dream of the United States,” the immigration agent said. “Why can’t you stay in Costa Rica and live your American dream here?”
Migration in pandemic
Meanwhile, other groups of migrants,predominately from Haiti and Cuba also attempt to move upward through Latin America to the U.S.The journey is remarkably long. There are often children born during the crossing and so the infants generally take on the citizenship of their place of birth. Chilean, Ecuadorian, Panamanian and Costa Rican infants move along the famished road with their families.
Red Cross officials in Central America go to great pains to teach migrants about Covid-19 – the importance of social distancing, hygiene and wearing masks among other things.
“Imagine a migrant who does not have the opportunity to isolate, maintain social distance, earn income to buy food, or have resources to buy masks, disinfectant gel or have running water,” says Jono Anzalone, head of disaster and crisis response for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “How can a migrant protect herself in the middle of this pandemic? “
Moreover, it is a real challenge to get people,whose entire future is predicated on movement from one country to anotherto accept the dangers of coronavirus.
“They don’t believe that Covid-19 exists,” says Jose Felix Rodriguez, the migration regional coordinator for the IFRC. “They are frustrated because they can’t continue north.”
Underlying drivers of migration still strong
Many believe that Covid-related quarantines and border closures have dramatically slowed the flow of migrants. But they doubt that it has stopped it altogether.Migration flows have continued despite the pandemic. The underlying conditions that have driven people to migrate are still present. “The pandemic has not deterred them,” says Anzalone.
The closure of borders has increased the vulnerabilities of migrants transiting through Central Americaas controls became more rigorous and many were forced to stay in shelters that were unprepared for large groups staying for long periods of time.
Crowding in these shelters, combined with the lack of permanent access to clean water, masks or other protective equipment, as well as the lack of food or other resources, have put many people throughout the region in a very critical situation.
Perhaps the most treacherous part of their journey, however, is through theDarien Gap– a jungled portion of land separating Colombia from Central America.
Those seeking a way northward through Darien travel in groups of about 400 people. Aisha said that each person pays between 20 and 40 dollars for the journey. In the forest, if you can’t walk, you are left behind. In a short period of time, the large group separates into smaller ones of about 100 people – the fastest to the stragglers. “We’ve seen people abandon their families there,” says Aisha. “In the forest, you don’t wait and there are no friends. Everyone is trying to save their lives.”
The perils of the Darien Gap
Inside the Darien, Aisha and her family met a couple from Guinea. The woman was 6-months pregnant. The pair had been left behind by their group. She had vomited blood and lost her child. When Aisha found her, the couple had already spent some six or seven days in the forest alone. “We tried to give them biscuits to eat. But the woman had her feet and face swollen, she couldn’t eat,” Aisha says. The couple made it through the jungle but just barely.
On the fourth day, Aisha saw – with her own eyes – vultures descending into a river. In the water, there was a corpse of a man with black-and-white shoes. “The vultures began to tear the body into pieces.”
To be sure,while the journeys are perilous they are also journeys of hope. If they could cross the myriad borders of South and Central America and make it to the US, Aisha and her family could settle with her uncle who lives in Colorado. “My goal was to get to my uncle’s house in the US and start a new life so that I could continue studying my career as a sociologist,” she says.
“What gives me hope is the life I have right now,” she says. “I have survived in Peru, Ecuador, and the deadly forest so far. If I have survived all this, I know I can make my dream come true by the grace of God.”
This story was produced and originally published by the Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine. To learn about the Magazine, and to read more stories like this,click here.
Since the beginning of 2022, there has been a massive increase in the number of refugees, migrants, and returnees in transit by land northwards through Central America. People are mostly moving through irregular channels, and along the way face bureaucratic barriers, suffer accidents and injuries, face extortion and sexual violence or disappear and are separated from their families. Tragically, others are killed or die from diseases or the harsh environmental conditions. This Emergency Appeal supports the Red Cross Societies of Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico to scale up humanitarian assistance and protection to 210,000 people along migratory routes.
Panama City/Geneva, 20 September 2021 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is ramping up efforts to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to migrants travelling through the Darién Gap, one of the most dangerous migratory routes in the world. Between January and August of 2021, 70,376 migrants (including 13,655 children) have crossed the Panamanian jungle, an amount in par with the total number of migrants over the last five years.
In the past few years, the Darién Gap has become a common transit point for migrants headed north, but the latest figure vastly surpasses the high numbers of 2016, when 30,000 people made the crossing throughout the whole year. In comparison, in August 2021 alone, 25,361 people have used this route.
Martha Keays, Regional Director for the Americas at IFRC, said:
“As the pandemic and its impacts persist, the number of migrants crossing the Darién Gap has hit all-time highs this year. In Panama, we have seen between 600 and 1,300 people entering the country every day. They face many risks during their journey through the jungle, often showing signs of physical and mental trauma. The Red Cross is there to support them to meet their basic needs, such as safe water, sanitation, healthcare, protection, information and psychological support.”
In response to the growing number of people crossing the Darien Gap, the IFRC has activated its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to scale up support to migrants in collaboration with the Panamanian Red Cross. The humanitarian response is focused on the distribution of clean water; promotion of community and personal hygiene; and distribution of essential items, such as mosquito nets. It also includes provision of healthcare and protection services; and the increase of capacities to deliver psychological support. In addition, the DREF supports the Costa Rican Red Cross to prepare for a possible increase in the number of migrants transiting through Costa Rica.
In Colombia, at the end of August 2021, more than 10,000 migrants were waiting in the village of Necoclí at the border between Colombia and Panama, an entry point into the Darién Gap. The Colombian Red Cross is providing them with information about their journey; distributing personal protective equipment against COVID-19; and providing health and protection services to assist vulnerable communities.
According to the Panamanian authorities, migrants of around 40 nationalities have crossed the Darién Gap this year. They come from Asian and African nations, such as Angola, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, but also from Latin America and the Caribbean. Many people are Haitian and Cuban, and there has also been an increase in the number of Venezuelan migrants.
“Some of the people currently crossing the Darién Gap have left their home countries years ago to start a new life in South America. But socio-economic disparities, stigma, discrimination, and the COVID-19 pandemic have caused them to lose their jobs or homes, and now they are facing impossible options, such as migrating once again. Access to basic services, such as food, water, sanitation, medical care, housing, essential information, and access to COVID-19 vaccines must be guaranteed to all, regardless of legal status”, added Keays.
The IFRC and its network of Red Cross National Societies have activated a monitoring system to track the population movement from the Southern Cone to Guatemala, including the migratory routes across the Andean countries, the Darién Gap, and Central America. They are also monitoring the evolution of the humanitarian situation in Haiti and Afghanistan, as the increase of humanitarian needs in those countries could lead to further displacement and migration along the Darién route.
In Panama, the IFRC and the Panamanian Red Cross, with support from the European Union, UNICEF and other partners, have been responding to the needs of migrants crossing the Darién for the last three years. Since 2019, they have provided more than 20,000 humanitarian interventions including psychosocial support, health care, access to water, and information on the migratory route.
For more information and to set up interviews, contact:
In Panama: Susana Arroyo Barrantes, + 506 8416 1771, [email protected]
In Geneva: Nathalie Perroud, +41 79 538 14 71, [email protected]
The Empress Shôken Fund is named after Her Majesty the Empress of Japan, who proposed – at the 9th International Conference of the Red Cross – the creation of an international fund to promote relief work in peacetime.
It is administered by the Joint Commission of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which maintains close contact with the Japanese Permanent Mission in Geneva, the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Meiji Jingu Research Institute in Japan.
The Fund has a total value of over 16 million Swiss francs and supports projects run by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to benefit their communities in various ways.
The first grant was awarded in 1921, to help five European National Societies fight the spread of tuberculosis. Since then, 169 National Societies have received 14 million Swiss francs. To mark the Fund’s 100th year of awarding grants, a short video was developed to highlight what the Fund stands for and showcase how it has supported National Societies through the years.
The imperial family, the Japanese government, the Japanese Red Cross and the Japanese people revere the memory of Her Majesty Empress Shôken, and their enduring regard for the Fund is evident in the regularity of their contributions to it.
The grants are usually announced every year on 11 April, the anniversary of her death. This year the announcement is being published earlier due to the weekend.
The selection process
The Fund received 28 applications in 2021 covering a diverse range of humanitarian projects run by National Societies in every region of the world.
This year the Joint Commission agreed to allocate a total of 475,997 Swiss francs to 16 projects in Argentina, the Bahamas, Benin, Costa Rica, Estonia, Georgia, Iran, Kenya, Malawi, Nicaragua, Pakistan, the Philippines, Romania, South Sudan, Timor-Leste and Viet Nam.
The projects to be supported in 2021 cover a number of themes, including youth engagement, disaster preparedness, National Society development and health, especially the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Fund continues to encourage new and innovative approaches with the potential to generate insights that will benefit the Movement as a whole.
The 2021 grants
The Argentine Red Cross is taking an innovative approach to talent management using new technologies. It will use the grant to develop a talent-management module to be implemented in 65 branches, enabling the National Society to attract and retain employees and volunteers.
The Bahamas Red Cross Society will put the grant towards building staff and volunteers’ capacities and expanding its network on five islands, with a view to implementing community- and ecosystem-based approaches to reducing disaster risk and increasing climate resilience.
The Red Cross of Benin seek to help vulnerable women become more autonomous. The grant will support them in developing income-generating activities and building their professional skills.
The Costa Rica Red Cross will use the grant to enable communities in the remote Cabécar and Bribri indigenous territories to better manage emergencies, holding workshops on first aid, risk prevention and emergency health care in connection with climate events and health emergencies, including COVID-19.
The Estonia Red Cross is working to build competencies in four key areas, including in recruiting, training and retaining volunteers. The funds will support the development of a volunteer database to help effectively manage information, especially against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With widespread COVID-19 transmission in Georgia, the Georgia Red Cross Society is working to help national authorities limit the impact of the pandemic. It will put the grant towards promoting good hygiene and raising awareness of the importance of vaccination.
The Red Crescent Society of Islamic Republic of Iran is focused on building local capacity with youth volunteers by boosting small businesses in outreach areas. The grant will be used for training, capacity-building and development in local partner institutions, generating income for community members.
The COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions have affected how the Kenya Red Cross Society does its humanitarian work. The grant will be used to launch an online volunteer platform to encourage and facilitate youth volunteering.
The Malawi Red Cross Society must be ready to respond to disasters due to climate variability and climate change. The funds will allow the National Society to establish a pool of trained emergency responders who can swing into action within 72 hours of a disaster.
The Nicaraguan Red Cross is working to protect the elderly from COVID-19. The grant will be used in three care homes located in the municipalities of Somoto, Sébaco and Jinotepe to provide medical assistance, prevent and control infections, and promote mental health as a basic element of self-care through training and support sessions and other activities.
The Pakistan Red Crescent seeks to improve how it manages blood donations. The funds will enable the National Society to increase the capacity of its blood donor centre and raise awareness of voluntary unpaid blood donation by holding World Blood Donor Day in 2021.
The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for All project of the Philippine Red Cross aims to develop WASH guidelines and promote them in the community. The grant will be used for training and capacity-building around providing health services in emergencies.
In Romania, teenagers in residential centres are vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence for a number of reasons, including a lack of both psychosocial education and staff trained in dealing with this kind of violence through trauma-informed care. The grant will enable the Red Cross of Romania to reduce the vulnerability of 60 teenagers in residential centres by increasing knowledge and aiding the development of safe relationships.
The South Sudan Red Cross is working to encourage young people to adapt to climate change by planting fruit trees. The grant will support this initiative, which aims to reduce the impact of climate change and increase food production.
In 2020 the Timor-Leste Red Cross launched an education programme aimed at increasing young people’s knowledge about reproductive health. The funds will be used to expand the programme – already active in five of the National Society’s branches – to the remaining eight branches.
The Viet Nam Red Cross aims to further engage with authorities and become more self-sufficient through fundraising. It will use the grant to build its personnel’s capacities by providing training courses on proposal writing, project management and social welfare.
Diego Gómez is 38 years old, he is an emergency medical technician, and for nine years he has been working as a paramedic in the Metropolitan Committee of the Costa Rican Red Cross, in the Canton of San José, the capital city of the country. Every day he carries out his duties with an Advanced Support Unit. Together with a driver he transfers patients to the hospital, many of them with symptoms compatible with COVID-19. According to Diego, things have changed a lot since the pandemic began.
“Normally we treat emergency medical cases, but with the onset of the pandemic, calls related to the virus increased a lot… there was very little information, and the health system quickly became saturated. We realized that there were many scared people thinking that they had contracted the coronavirus and many felt very lonely and anguished without knowing what to do.”
The service in which Diego works consists of four ambulances and as soon as the urgent care notice arrives, protocol are set in motion to try and determine if the person who is going to be treated could be infected with the virus. The family or the patient reports on their symptoms and checks are done to see if they have had close contact with people with coronavirus. When the team arrives at the patient's home and the suspicion of possible contagion is confirmed, their transfer to the nearest available medical center is organized.
“Many of the patients we serve are older adults with other health conditions, such as obesity or diabetes. The hardest thing is that they have to travel alone in the ambulance and many older people have to say goodbye to their family, because they cannot be accompanied in the context of the pandemic... it is a hard time for them and for us too".
Diego also tells us that he and three of his colleagues had to quarantine for 15 days, due to contact with a patient who had to be treated in the ambulance for cardiac arrest, and it turned out to be COVID-19 positive.
According to Diego, during the days of isolation his feeling was one of frustration, and then one of vulnerability, "for the first time I saw myself on the side of the sick and that affected me a lot, I had to accept that it is part of the work we do. Now we have new protocols, and all the cases we attend are treated as suspects, until proven otherwise, that is why we use protective filter masks, a surgical gown, protective glasses, etc. I live with my mother who is older, and I always try to respect security measures ... even if we have to keep physical distance with our elders, that does not mean that we have to keep emotional distance. It is always possible to show affection over the phone, or exchange virtual hugs over video calls”, he concludes.
The Costa Rican Red Cross has been working on the frontline of this health emergency, so far more than 8000 cases of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients have been transferred and more than 41000 incidents have been carried out for the same cause. Campaigns have also been carried out in communities promoting the implementation of protection measures.
Panama/Geneva, 14 December 2020– One month after hurricanes Eta and Iota hit Central America and Colombia, affecting more than 7.5 million people, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warns that millions are still in need of immediate humanitarian support in what has become one of the most challenging disasters faced by the region in recent history.
The IFRC and National Red Cross Societies are currently addressing the most urgent needs of over 100,000 people through seven simultaneous humanitarian operations in Colombia, Belize, Costa Rica, Panamá, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. The situation is especially severe in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala, where more than 6 million people have been affected by heavy rains, floods, and landslides. In-depth damage and needs assessments are ongoing but results from all rapid assessments conducted so far paint a bleak humanitarian picture in both the short and medium term.
Felipe del Cid, Head of the IFRC’s Disaster Response Unit in the Americas, said: “Millions of people still need immediate humanitarian support: shelter, health care, psychosocial support, access to food, clean water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. We are talking about a huge disaster, exacerbating an already ruinous combination of COVID-19, poverty and inequality in the region.These overlapping crises are making our operation one of the most complex we have ever mounted. The support of the international community is urgent to protect lives and livelihoods”.
On 8 November, the IFRC launched an Emergency Appeal for 20 million Swiss Francs to assist 75,000 of the worst affected people in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua for at least 18 months. Currently only 58% funded, the appeal focuses on rebuilding and repairing damaged shelters, improving access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, addressing health needs, including COVID-19 prevention measures, and providing psychosocial support. The operation will also seek to address the mid-term consequences, such as the hurricanes’ impact on livelihoods and displacement.
“Eta and Iota have wiped out livestock, destroyedtools,harvests and farming areas, and impacted popular tourist spotsacross a region that was already facing an economic crisis related to COVID-19 and where the incomes of thousands of families had already been severely depleted. People are at risk of resorting to coping strategiessuch as selling their animals and properties,eating less food, andabandoning their homes to look for new ways of generating income”, added del Cid.
History has shown that hurricanes can cause displacement influxes as the loss of housing and livelihoods fuel unemployment and lead to increased movement of people to urban centres. Eta and Iota also represent a challenge for returned populations. InGuatemala and Honduras,some of the areas hit hardest have also welcomed large groups of returned people whose journeys have not ended in the way they expected. Figures on unemployment, poverty, and vulnerability were already high due to COVID-19 and will very likely deteriorate due to Eta and Iota.
Audiovisual materials including high quality B-roll and images available to download and use here.
The Red Cross, working in every country in the region, is supporting thousands of people affected by the heavy rains and floods caused by Hurricane Eta.
Eta tore across parts of Central America after in made landfall in Nicaragua on 3 November as a category 4 Hurricane. Though it was downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved towards Honduras and Guatemala, constant rains and powerful winds have caused flooding and devastation across the region, including dozens of deadly landslides. Belize, Cost Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua have all been significantly affected.
Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes with flooding and landslides causing severe damage across the region. It is thought the storm has claimed the lives of more than 200 people, though the true figure could be much higher as many people remain missing.
As families struggle to come to terms with what has happened, concerns are mounting about the impact this disaster will have on coronavirus transmissions.
COVID-19 prevention measures, such as regular hand washing and social distancing, will almost certainly be made more difficult in evacuation shelters, in overcrowded family homes or other safe places people have moved to.
“There are thousands of homeless people, in temporary refuges or shelters facing many vulnerabilities. Right now, preventing the spread of COVID-19 is essential despite the enormous challenges of the emergency. It is not unlikely that we will witness a significant increase in cases in the coming weeks, due to the difficulty of applying public health measures in such a complex context,” Dr María Tallarico, IFRC Health Coordinator in the Americas, warns.
Thousands of Red Cross volunteers across the region are assisting families affected by floods, supporting evacuations and search and rescue, providing first aid and psychosocial support, as well as transporting people safely to hospital. These same volunteers have been supporting communities to stay safe during the pandemic.
“Red Cross National Societies face the difficult task of responding to these deadly rains and floods as well as COVID-19. Volunteers are being provided with the necessary personal protection equipment and will continue to support communities with prevention and protection measures. It is important now that these measures are not only maintained but increased in order to reduce possible transmissions”, Dr Maria continues.
Volunteers from the Guatemalan Red Cross are supporting children affected by the storm with psychosocial support in evacuation shelters across the country. Across the region, volunteers are already distributing hygiene kits across to help people to stay safe. (Credit: Guatemalan Red Cross)[/caption]
Red Cross National Societies, with the support of the IFRC in the region, are already distributing hygiene kits to displaced people, these include masks and hand sanitizer. Volunteers are also talking to families about how to stay safe during this time.
The IFRC is recommending that all response must consider the need for heightened prevention measures against the virus, as well as other communicable diseases, such as Zika, that commonly increase during and after floods.
“We urge people to ensure that they continue to follow health advice, wear masks and wash or disinfect their hands as regularly as possible, use safe water to avoid diarrhea and other infections due to contaminated water, protect girls and boys and monitor the emergence of respiratory or skin diseases. Our Red Cross staff and volunteers are on the ground helping and supporting these tasks,” Dr Maria says.
The Red Cross is also urging people to continue to consider personal protection measures such as wearing masks and washing their hands as often as possible. Assessments are underway to evaluate the damage caused by the storm. The immediate concerns are ensuring people have access to clean water, food and safe shelter.
It may be days or even week before the true extent of the damage is known, but constant rains even after the storm has passed, means that strong currents and landslides continue to destroy homes, farmland and sadly, to take lives.
This devastation comes at a time when many communities in the region are already deeply affected by the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
The long-term effects of this disaster threatens to push communities already struggling to cope, over the edge.
“The long-term effects of this climate disaster will push communities already struggling to cope with the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, over the edge. The IFRC has launched and appeal and will continue to work alongside the National Societies responding, to ensure that no one is left behind.”
The IFRC has launched a regional emergency appeal to cover three countries, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. The IFRC is seeking 20m CHF to support 75,000 people cross these three countries for the next 18 months. It also continues to support other countries affected, including Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama, working closely with the National Societies responding. The IFRC in the region continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Panama/Geneva, 27 September 2019–-As dengue spreads rapidly across Central America, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is scaling up emergency assistance to help countries contain the mosquito borne viral disease.
In Honduras, more than 71,200 people have been affected by the disease making it the worst outbreak in the country’s history. Nearly one quarter of the cases reported were classified as severe dengue and more than 65 percent of the 128 deaths so far are children under 15.
Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica are also reporting massive increases in dengue cases compared to previous years.
Dr Maria Franca Tallarico, Head of Health at IFRC’s Regional Office for the Americas said:
“Dengue is endemic across the Americas, but what is very concerning in this outbreak is that the majority of the cases and deaths are occurring in children under 15. This is due to a lack of immunity in young people to the deadliest of the four strains of dengue currently circulating in the region.”
A combination of seasonal rains and warming temperatures are being blamed for dengue’s rapid spread--creating more stagnant pools that are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. There are rising concerns that this will make the outbreak will be harder to contain.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), rising global temperatures rainfall patterns linked to climate change could significantly modify vector-borne diseases and their effect on human populations—making epidemics more difficult to predict and control.
Teams of Red Cross volunteers in affected Central American countries have been supporting government efforts to slow the outbreak—providing door to door awareness raising about the disease and how to prevent it. With their unique access to affected communities, the Red Cross volunteers are helping to clean up mosquito breeding sites or accompanying health workers to identify cases.
Dr Tallarico said:
“The size of this outbreak is unprecedented across Central America. Dengue is a disease that affects the most vulnerable--those who live in places where there is poor sanitation and where mosquitoes thrive. But the disease can be contained if governments and communities work together to raise awareness, access medical care and clean up the environment. This is what the Red Cross teams across affected countries are focused on doing.”
The IFRC has launched a regional appeal seeking a total of 2.9 million Swiss francs to support the National Red Cross Societies in Central America to deliver assistance and support to 550,000 people for 12 months. The appeal will focus on community health, water and sanitation and promoting behaviours changes that prevent the decease.
Dengue cases have increased 30-fold over the last 50 years, according to the World Health Organization. As one of the world’s fastest growing diseases, dengue is endemic in 100 countries infecting up to50-100 million people a year.