Seeing the world, and helping others, through science
For Eva Turró, science has almost been about much more than a career. Her passion for biology has allowed her tosee the world with different eyes, to understand, respect and take care of the environment and the people around her.
Born into a family ofdoctors,sheremembers as a child watching her grandfatherhelping families as a medicalpractitionerin her hometown in Barcelona, Spain.While medicine became a tradition in herfamily,she chose tolearn about humans and their interaction with the world through a differentlens.
“I thought that it would be a good ideato try and help peoplefrom a biological perspective,” says Turró, who most recently used that approach in her work as an emergency response delegate for the Spanish Red Cross in Mozambique and Honduras following devastating storms in 2019 and 2020.
In the flooding, devastation and disruption that comes after major storms, the household and neighborhood ecosystems that maintain people’s lives is turned upside down. Clean water is suddenly hard to come by. Washing and going to the bathroom can’t be done in the normal way. People are stressed, hungry, sad and they may have to stay in homes or shelters with many others.
It’s a biological environment where diseases and bacteria can thrive and easily spread.
Eva’s job is to use her knowledge of the natural and human world to help people in these situations understand the science and take steps to keep themselves safe. “I get to go into communities and have the chance of explaining things scientifically,” she says. “Things like ‘Why is hand-washing important?’,‘Why do weneed to prevent diseases like diarrhoea?’and ‘Why is it important to treat the water?’”
Her knowledge comes in very handy when helping these communities find or restore access to clean water and sanitation systems, as well as encourage coping tactics that preventthe spread of diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera or other infectious diseases.
The path of science and humanity
While Eva’s desire to help others began at an early age, her particular path became clear after she finished her studies and spent some timetraveling. She soon realizedshe could also help people far from her hometown of Barcelona and so she opted todo something in the humanitarian world.One way to do that was to connect her desire to help others with her scientific leanings.
Her first international assignments were as hygiene promoter in Mozambique after Cyclone Idai in 2019 and in Honduras after two hurricanes, Eta and Iota, smashed into Central America within two weeks of each other in December 2020. Those two storms caused widespread flooding affecting more than 7.5 million people in the region, of which 4 million are in Honduras.
“We worked toreach communities and shelterswhere people have found refuge after the hurricane,” Eva says of her work in Honduras.“Not only through awareness-raising activities,but also distributing menstrual hygiene kits”.
An invaluable opportunity
Eva’s scientific background has allowed hernot onlytoshare whatshe has learned as a biologist, but also to learn from othersandform real bonds with people from many different walks of life.
“To listen to the life stories from all over theworld … To go anywhere in the world, not just as a traveller, but to help others…This is invaluable”.
Together we can #BeatTheHeat
Did you know that heat waves are becoming more frequent, longer, hotter, and deadlier due to climate change?
Every year, they put millions of people at risk of heat-related illnesses and claim the lives of thousands of others.
But the threats heat waves pose are preventable. And the steps that we can take to protect ourselves, our friends and our families from extreme heat are simple and affordable.
Here’s what you need to know about heat waves, what you can do to #BeatTheHeat, and some inspiration from Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
What is a heat wave?
A heat wave is an extended period of unusually high temperatures and often high humidity. Exact definitions of a heat wave can vary between countries depending on what temperatures and conditions are normal for the local climate.
Heat waves can cause people to suffer from shock, become dehydrated, and develop serious heat illnesses. Heat waves also put people with chronic cardiovascular and respiratory diseases at a high risk.
People living in cities and towns tend to be the hardest hit by heat waves because urban areas are generally hotter than the surrounding countryside.
What should I do to prepare for a heat wave?
We can reliably forecast heat waves in most places, so you usually have time to prepare. Make sure you keep an eye on your local weather forecast and remember the following:
Drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty
Avoid being out in the sun. Find shade or a cool indoor space where possible. Tip: you can use shades or reflective materials on your windows to help keep the heat out of your home.
Wear loose, lightweight and light coloured clothing
Check on your family, friends and neighbours – particularly if they are elderly or unwell – to make sure they’re okay
Eat enough food, ideally smaller and more frequent meals
Look out for symptoms of heat-induced sickness - breathlessness, chest pain, confusion, weakness, dizziness or cramps – and seek medical help if needed
Watch this short video to learn more or visit our dedicated heat waves page for even more advice.
Inspiration from National Societies on how to #BeatTheHeat
Last June, in Satmatha, Bangladesh, volunteers from the Bangladesh Red Crescent set up a stage in the heart of the city where they gave creative public performances inspired by heat for Heat Action Day 2022.
From poetry to comedy, dance to drama, volunteers performed their hearts out – all in local dialects – to catch people’s attention and teach them all about heat risks.
Their performances caused so much of a stir that they made it into national news in print and digital – spreading the word on how to #BeatTheHeat even further! You can watch some clips of their performances here.
In the town of Kandi, in West Bengal, India, Indian Red Cross Society volunteers took to the streets last year when temperatures soared.
During a severe heat wave that struck the region, they set up purified drinking water points at their branch office, at bus stops, and outside hospitals so that members of the public could rehydrate during the difficult conditions.
Making themselves known with big, colourful parasols and giant barrels of water, they brought shade, refreshment and smiles to their local community.
In Spain, the Spanish Red Cross has a long history of supporting communities across the country to stay safe during the summer heat. Their volunteers conduct a lot of outreach – through social media, phone calls and street mobilization – to share tips on how people can stay cool.
They also check in on older people and people with chronic illnesses who are at particular risk when temperatures rise. And in some regions, volunteers venture out into their communities on really hot days to hand out water, paper fans and caps.
Extreme heat doesn’t just put people's health at risk, it can take a big toll on people’s livelihoods, too. In Uruguay this year, prolonged periods of extreme heat and a lack of rain have led to droughts, which are causing huge damage to farming and agriculture.
To help communities cope, Uruguayan Red Cross volunteers have been sharing information on how people can protect themselves and their livestock during heat waves. With support from the IFRC’sDisaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF), they’ve also been providing water and sunscreen and are offering cash assistance to families who are most affected. Find out more here.
Helpful resources to learn more about heat
City heat wave guide for Red Cross and Red Crescent branches
Extreme heat: Preparing for the heatwaves of the future – a joint report from the IFRC, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA)
Heat Toolkit – a collection of posters, social media assets and videos about heat waves produced by the Global Disaster Preparedness Centre
| Press release
Climate change made record April temperatures in the Western Mediterranean at least 100 times more likely
Human-caused climate change made the record-breaking heatwave in Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Algeria at least 100 times more likely and the heat would have been almost impossible without climate change, according to rapid attribution analysis by an international team of leading climate scientists as part of the World Weather Attribution group.
In late April, parts of southwestern Europe and North Africa experienced a massive heatwave that brought extremely high temperatures never previously recorded in the region at this time of the year, with temperatures reaching 36.9-41°C in the four countries. The event broke temperature records by a large margin, against the backdrop of an intense drought.
Across the world, climate change has made heatwaves more common, longer and hotter. To quantify the effect of climate change on these high temperatures, scientists analysed weather data and computer model simulations to compare the climate as it is today, after about 1.2°C of global warming since the late 1800s, with the climate of the past, following peer-reviewed methods. The analysis looked at the average of the maximum temperature for three consecutive days in April across southern Spain and Portugal, most of Morocco and the northwest part of Algeria.
The researchers found that climate change made the heatwave at least 100 times more likely, with temperatures up to 3.5°C hotter than they would have been without climate change. They calculated that the event is still unusual, even with the large increase in likelihood due to human-caused warming, indicating it would have been almost impossible without climate change.
As other analyses of extreme heat in Europe have found, extreme temperatures are increasing faster in the region than climate models have predicted, a question that is currently under intense research. Until overall greenhouse gas emissions are halted, global temperatures will continue to increase and events like these will become more frequent and severe. For example, if global mean temperatures rise an additional 0.8°C, to a total warming of 2°C, models show that a heatwave such as this one would be 1ºC hotter.
While people in the Mediterranean are no strangers to high temperatures, their occurrence in Aprilcombined with the ongoing drought likely increased impacts. The study was conducted by 10 researchers as part of the World Weather Attribution group, including scientists from universities and meteorological agencies in France, Morocco, the Netherlands and the UK.
Fatima Driouech, Associate Professor at the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, said:“The intense heatwave came on top of a preexisting multi-year drought, exacerbating the lack of water in Western Mediterranean regions and threatening the 2023 crop yield. As the planet warms, these situations will become more frequent and call for long-term planning, including implementing sustainable agricultural models and effective water management policies."
Roop Singh, Senior Climate Risk Advisor at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, said:“Early season heatwaves tend to be deadlier as people have not yet prepared their homes or acclimated to summer temperatures. In Spain, for example, we saw heatwave adaptation measures put in place earlier than usual, which is exactly the type of adaptive heat action we need to see more of to reduce preventable deaths from heat.”
Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change
and the Environment, said:“The Mediterranean is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change in Europe. The region is already experiencing a very intense and long lasting drought and these high temperatures at a time of the year when it should be raining is worsening the situation. Without rapidly stopping the burning of fossil fuels
and adaptation towards a hotter, drier climate, losses and damages in the region will continue to rise dramatically. ”
Sjoukje Philip, Researcher at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, said: "Temperature records have again been broken by a large margin, as in some other recent heatwaves around the world. The fact that temperature trends in the region are higher than what models predict shows that we need to better understand the regional effects of climate change so that we can adapt to even more extreme heat in the future."
Click here to access the study.
World Weather Attribution (WWA) is an international collaboration that analyses and communicates the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events, such as storms, extreme rainfall, heatwaves, cold spells, and droughts.
Previous studies by WWA include research that found that climate change exacerbated floods in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa this year. WWA studies have also shown that this year’s drought in the Northern Hemisphere was made more likely by climate change and that it increased the rainfall that led to Pakistan’s deadly flooding, but that it was not the main driver in Madagascar’s 2021 food crisis.
Supporting the homeless in Spain: Spanish Red Cross volunteers offer a warm embrace on cold winter nights
Four candles on a rickety table are the only heating and lighting in the makeshift home of Sonia and José Antonio, the four walls around them seemingly held up by a miracle
As lighting, the candles do their job, at least, for the tiny living space. As heating, the candles don’t cut it: a cold night of 6 degrees both outside, and inside.
The repeated dry coughs of 38-year-old Sonia are just one consequence of the lack of heat. Of the kind of cold that gets into your bones.
“They should give her a VIP card at the hospital,” jokes José Antonio, as he lists her lung ailments.
They’ve been a couple for four years, almost as long as they’ve lived between these four walls in the middle of a site that was once an important truck factory on the outskirts of Alcalá de Henares, Madrid.
Tonight, like so many others, they are visited by Juani and Basilio, two volunteers from the Spanish Red Cross homeless care teams. They have brought some food, as the two mastiff puppies, who keep looking for cuddles from the volunteers, can sense.
"Come on, get down from there," José Antonio scolds one of them, "you don't have to be cuddly, you have to defend the home," he laments. A generator was recently stolen from them, and with it, their heat.
The Red Cross volunteers advise the couple on some of the assistance they can offer and other administrative procedures, but, above all, they share their time.
"Our main job is to listen, to get them to open up. Imagine that you live alone, in the street, and you have no one to talk to from the moment you get up until the moment you go to bed," says Basilio, a former military man, who is now in his second year as a volunteer in the homeless care programme.
Juani and Basilio's route next takes them to the unfinished changing rooms of a sports facility in the area. There are no windows, no doors, no electricity, no water. The current ‘tenant’, Javier, arrives shortly after by bicycle.
By the light of mobile phones, walking among the rubble, you can see broken mattresses, discarded clothes and empty food cans.
But the laughter begins. Javier has found himself a new girlfriend, and proudly shows pictures of her off to volunteers Juani and Basilio on his mobile phone. He is very happy with her. His last girlfriend had beat him.
"That's the main problem, the dependencies that many of the people we work with carry with them and the violence that accompanies them", Basilio points out.
Juani and Basilio's nocturnal route then takes them to an old warehouse in an industrial estate in Alcalá. There they will have another laugh and a few jokes with 68-year-old Moisa, of Romanian origin.
Moisa has managed to turn the old warehouse into something resembling a home. He even has a television set on which he watches cowboy movies, the old-fashioned kind that he likes.
As he lights up a cigarette, under the disapproving gaze of Juani and Basilio, they begin to talk about the divine and the human and quickly move on from politics to lighter subjects, such as the singer Carla Bruni.
After dropping off some food, Basilio and Juani begin the journey back to the Red Cross headquarters in Alcalá.
They feel a bit sad, they say. They recently lost a friend from the street. A ‘family member’, they call him. Because, to them, they are all like family.
"At least he didn't die in the street, they were able to take him to the hospital and he passed away in a bed," Basilio stresses.
"In spite of everything, we have to go on, we can't take our problems home and let the situations we live through break us; I can help if I'm well, if I smile", says Juani, who has spent time on sick leave in the past when another person he was supporting passed away.
Comprehensive support for the homeless
Juani and Basilio are two of the more than 5,000 Spanish Red Cross volunteers who work with homeless people in Spain.
The Spanish Red Cross runs 77 Social Emergency Units (UES) for this purpose in nearly 40 provinces. In addition, they offer 800 places in temporary accommodation for critical moments and run 31 day centres in which they can offer showers, laundry or canteen services when needed.
As part of a wider network of organisations providing support to homeless people, they can also refer or transport people who need help to other accommodation or services as needed.
"The aim of our work is not only to provide basic goods such as food, shelter and hygiene products, but also to work for the social inclusion of homeless people," says Raquel Zafra, head of the programme in Alcalá de Henares.
"Our aim is always for people to go to different spaces where we can provide more in-depth support in the form of social care, monitoring and accompaniment, information and guidance, mediation, or training activities", stresses Zafra.
Through the Social Emergency Units, the Spanish Red Cross assisted more than 18,000 people in 2022.
COVID-19: Scaling up testing and strengthening national health systems with EU support
Since the beginning of the pandemic, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Europe have been supporting their countries’ health authorities in the fight against COVID-19 through a wide range of services to help curb the spread of the virus and ensure nobody is left behind.
In Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain, National Societies expanded mobile testing capacities thanks to a EUR 35.5 million partnership between the European Commission and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The European Commission financed this project as part of its Emergency Support Instrument to boost testing capacities and provide immediate support to Member States. The project’s success – it trained and equipped more testing teams as initially targeted – shows the value of a coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic amongst European Red Cross National Societies.
From September 2020 to September 2021, this initiative has been a vital part of the COVID-19 response, making RT-PCR and rapid antigen testing available for more people. Local Red Cross teams performed more than 1.2 million tests within the scope of the project. Moreover, 6,800 Red Cross staff and volunteers were trained for testing and 1,428 mobile teams were set up and equipped to provide COVID-19 testing services.
The outreach role of National Red Cross Societies and their capacity to reach vulnerable groups has been particularly important in countries like Greece and Malta, where the Red Cross provided health and care services to migrants and refugees. Set up in camps and remote areas, these testing facilities aimed to help contain the spread of COVID-19 where access to health services was often limited.
“Testing is essential to help contain the pandemic. With all its initial targets surpassed, the project has proven that National Societies can play a key role in supporting national health systems in Europe and has opened new possibilities for further collaboration with health authorities,” said IFRC project coordinator Francisco Fong.
Local Red Cross teams also set up testing stations at transport hubs where a large number of people pass by every day. In Italy, staff and volunteers offered rapid antigen tests free of charge at 10 train stations across the country for travellers and commuters. In countries like Austria, Germany, Portugal and Spain, the Red Cross mobile testing teams have been invaluable in reaching out to marginalised communities in the countryside, where many people don’t have health insurance.
As coronavirus cases and deaths continue to surge across Europe, collective efforts are more important than ever to disrupt transmission chains and save lives. The partnership between the European Commission and the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has been instrumental in providing support to health authorities and curbing the spread of COVID-19.
| Press release
Hundreds of Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers responding to wildfires across Europe
Ankara/Budapest/Geneva, 2 August 2021 – Volunteers from Greece, Italy, Russia, Spain, and Turkey are responding to several wildfires raging across Europe. Scorching temperatures, high winds and tinder dry conditions have forced rescues by sea and land, with thousands of people fleeing for their lives with just the clothes on their backs.
In southern Turkey eight people have died and scores are injured. Hundreds of animals have been killed and countless homes lost in the worst hit areas of Antalya and Bodrum. More than 2,000 Turkish Red Crescent staff and volunteers are on the ground.
Shafiquzzaman Rabbani, Acting Head of Turkey delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said:
“We are very concerned at this week’s weather forecast, with temperatures tipped to reach as high as 40 degrees Celsius in Antalya today. Teams of Turkish Red Crescent volunteers and staff are doing everything they can to assist those affected.”
Turkish Red Crescent is providing food through its mobile kitchens, distributing water and hygiene kits, and providing shelter and psychosocial support to firefighters and affected communities.
In Greece, Hellenic Red Cross rescuers and lifeguards have been evacuating trapped people by boat from the settlements of Kamares, Longos and Platiri. Earlier in the week they were helping the fire brigade quell a fire in Patras. Extreme temperatures forecast for this week have teams on high alert.
Italian Red Cross has been assisting with evacuations in Sardinia and distributing water and food. They have delivered animal feed to farmers as fires continued over the weekend. More than 800 flare-ups were recorded this weekend, mainly in the south, and firefighters continue to flight blazes in Sicily.
Spanish Red Cross volunteers have also been busy this weekend assisting at a fire at San Juan reservoir, 70km from Madrid, and 25 Russian Red Cross volunteers are still at the scene of a fire in Karelia, distributing food, water, bedding, hygiene kits and personal protective equipment to people affected.
IFRC Europe’s acting head of Disaster, Climate and Crises Antoine Belair said the increasing number of wildfires year on year across the Mediterranean is linked to climate change causing more extreme weather conditions, including lower rainfall and higher temperatures.
“Extreme weather conditions exacerbate risks of these events. Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies remain on high alert, providing support to affected populations, in close coordination with national authorities and firefighter teams,” he said.
Footnote: Advice on how to prepare for a forest fire can be viewed here.
For more information, please contact:
In Ankara: Elif Isik, +90 539 857 5197, [email protected]
In Budapest: Corinne Ambler, +36 704 306 506, [email protected]
In Geneva: Nathalie Perroud, +41 79 538 14 71, [email protected]
Canary Islands, Spain: Saving lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic
“We have had cases of babies, sometimes just hours old, with the umbilical cord still attached, or children who were born in the boat and who would touch the mainland for the first time in our arms.”
Miguel Vela has been a Spanish Red Cross volunteer since 2009, witnessing horror and desperation on a regular basis. A trained nurse, he is currently part of the Immediate Response Team in Humanitarian Assistance to Migrants (ERIE) in the Canary Islands – something he combines with his job in a hospital and the 112 emergency service.
In 2020, more than 30,000 migrants arrived by sea to Spain, the highest number in 15 years. COVID-19 made the rescue operation even more complex.
“The COVID-19 emergency added the risk of infection, the discomfort of having to use protective equipment despite extremely hot temperatures, the frequent modification of protocols and the psychological and physical exhaustion after long working hours,” explained Miguel.
But he is aware of how privileged he is.
“I have always had the luxury of going back home to running water, electricity and food. In the meantime, people continue to risk their lives in the middle of the sea or have to quarantine in overcrowded settings. Not to mention the bodies that reach the coast or those who do not even manage to touch the mainland, human beings whom no one will ever be able to watch over.”
Miguel’s daily activity is intense, racing against the clock to save lives and help the most vulnerable. He is always on standby for a boat sighting. In such cases, he provides basic health and humanitarian aid to migrants upon disembarkation. His team does a first triage, taking those who need medical assistance to a nearby medical post. The rest of the migrants are given essential items including clothes, food and water.
Miguel is particularly touched by the children they’ve seen. “No person should go through this, least of all a child. We should be embarrassed as a society,” he denounced.
Working in such environment is never easy, but it’s been especially hard this last year.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to give 200% of ourselves without having a physical shoulder to lean on, struggling with uncertainty in the face of the unknown and with great fear,” said Miguel.
His plea? More humanity and solidarity with one another.
“To me, this crisis has been a parenthesis, a ‘stop’ in our lives. From one day to the next all our plans were disrupted, for a moment there seemed to be no distinction of social class, gender, ideals, northern or southern hemispheres... For once in history, we all seemed ONE fighting the same cause.
“I invite you to continue maintaining prevention measures. The vaccine is the vertex of the triangle that will help us fight the virus, but it is important that it reaches all corners of the world. It is our duty as a society to ensure that. And I think this crisis is also an opportunity to further value life, the closeness of our own, a hug, a kiss or a simple look.”
| Press release
Red Cross Red Crescent warns of the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and young people in Europe
Budapest/Geneva, 7 June 2021 – The mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic will have far-reaching impacts for entire generations, warned the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
Several studies by Red Cross and Red Crescent societies across Europe show an alarming pattern, which requires increased efforts to tackle inequity and assist those most in need.
Antónia de Barros Mota, head of Mental Health/Psychosocial Support for IFRC Europe, said:
“The mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are like invisible scars or hidden wounds. Young people and children are suffering stress, bereavement and loneliness, which can worsen as time passes. Their parents may have lost their jobs. Lockdowns and other restrictions continue to hamper their access to education, training and work.”
The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has reached a critical point recently.
Four university students took their own lives in a campus in southern France in the last quarter of 2020. French Red Cross set up a 24/7 rapid intervention team[i] to support those at risk. During the first six months they dealt with 11 students including eight who required immediate hospitalisation.
“With end of school year exams approaching, staff and volunteers are on high alert,” explained Sara Salinas, coordinator of the French Red Cross emergency service in the county.
A Spanish Red Cross study[ii] among families with young children revealed the majority now live in extreme poverty. Nearly 40 per cent are unemployed and three quarters cannot afford expenses such as glasses or hearing aids for their children. Most parents reported feeling worried or stressed, impacting their ability to emotionally support their children.
Research by Austrian Red Cross[iii] found sleep and eating disturbances among children had doubled, and that after the second lockdown in 2020, 16 per cent of children interviewed in North Tyrol (Austria) and South Tyrol (Italy) were likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Refugees and migrant children are also significantly affected by the pandemic. A Turkish Red Crescent and IFRC study[iv] found a third were unable to access online school lessons. Another study with German Red Cross in Turkey showed that when forced to stay home children displayed more behavioural problems, and traumatic memories were triggered for some.
Europe has had more than 54.6 million COVID-19 cases and 1.1 million deaths to date[v] – a third of infections and fatalities worldwide. Declining trends are promising, but the pandemic’s effects could be long-lasting.
“Authorities and civil society organizations must scale up programmes and resources to help vulnerable youth and children – including basic livelihoods assistance and tailored mental health and psychosocial support. It is crucial to promote resilience at the individual level and within society as a whole,” de Barros Mota concluded.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, IFRC and Red Cross Red Crescent societies throughout Europe have provided mental health and psychosocial support to 1.8 million people.
[iii] Silvia Exenberger; Anna Wenter; Christina Taferner; Nina Haid-Stecher; Maximilian Schickl; Barbara Juen; Kathrin Sevecke; Heidi Siller. "The experience of threat through Covid-19 in children: Gender as moderating factor" has been received by European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The submission id is: ECAP-D-21-00298, May 2021
| Press release
COVID-19: IFRC warns Europe’s poorest countries are being left behind, as deaths hit grim milestone
Budapest/Geneva, 21 April 2020 – As Europe reaches the grim milestone of 50 million infections and 1 million lives lost to COVID-19, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) calls for more equitable access to vaccination to counter disparities across countries and ensure no one is left behind.
More than a year into the pandemic, the situation continues to worsen despite vaccination rollout. The Europe region accounts for one third of cases and deaths worldwide, and the socio-economic crisis is deepening as newly vulnerable people seek help to meet their basic needs.
Dr Davron Mukhamadiev, IFRC Regional Health and Care Coordinator for Europe, said: “Vaccine inequity is both concerning and dangerous. COVID-19 does not stop at borders, and our safety relies on widespread immunization. However, some of the poorest countries in Europe are struggling to move forward.”
As of 6 April, just 12.3 per cent of the population in Europe had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and the lack of equitable access to immunization is still worrying: in low income countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, only 0.4 per cent of total inhabitants had been vaccinated, on average, while in the richest countries that figure stood at 17.7 per cent.
The IFRC is seeking funding for its immunization plan, targeting 500 million of the most vulnerable people around the world, as part of the organization's emergency appeal to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, at present this is only 51 per cent covered. Without more funding, IFRC will be unable to make a meaningful difference for those in need.
Dr Mukhamadiev said it is crucial for governments to step up their commitments towards ensuring that everyone has equal and timely access to the vaccine.
“Equity is both a moral and public health imperative. None of us is safe, until we are all safe. At the national level, it is essential to guarantee that homeless, migrants – irrespective of their status – and other vulnerable groups are included in vaccination plans.”
Hopes of Europe returning to normality are fading, as health systems in many countries continue to be overburdened and intensive care units reach a critical point.
“Worryingly, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across Europe are still witnessing the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic every day, everywhere,” warned Dr Mukhamadiev.
“Volunteers who run ambulance services or support nursing homes and hospitals are directly confronted with illness and death, while those providing other types of assistance now deal with increased human suffering and people in need, including the newly vulnerable: including those who have lost their jobs and can’t make ends meet and those who cannot deal with difficulties such as isolation,” he said.
In Spain, for example, 52 per cent of the people who asked for psychosocial support through the Spanish Red Cross’ ‘Cruz Roja Te Escucha’ service in the last months had never sought help from the organization before. Two thirds of the total reported having emotional distress most or all the time – including depression and anxiety.
Dr Mukhamadiev said the key to successfully combatting successive waves of COVID-19 is vaccination and testing, together with improved treatments and preventative measures. People should continue to routinely wearmasks, wash hands and keep physical distance, as those measures play a major role in mitigating the spread of the virus.
Note to editors:
National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Europe have reached nearly 100 million people with health and hygiene promotion activities since the beginning of the pandemic. They have also provided food and other material aid to more than 14.4 million, cash or voucher assistance to 2.9 million, and psychosocial support to 1.8 million.
Local teams are working tirelessly to help the most vulnerable, and continue stepping up vaccination, testing and awareness-raising interventions. Here are some examples:
In Spain, staff and volunteers have assisted more than 3.5 million people through the ‘Cruz Roja Responde’ multisectoral plan, which includes emergency services and the set-up of temporary hospitals and shelters together with other types of support; they are also testing migrants rescued from the sea, and supporting vaccination in nursing homes and for persons with disabilities.
In Italy, staff and volunteers are running one of the largest vaccination centres in the country, in Rome’s Fiumicino airport. Furthermore, volunteers are sharing information on a web radio station run by young migrants, and running podcasts on COVID-19; they are translating materials into migrants’ own languages, and circulating them in reception centres while operating a toll-free 24/7 hotline.
In Greece, staff and volunteers in the islands, Athens and Thessaloniki are giving a hand with the health screening for migrants, they are responding to thousands of daily calls to their multi-language hotline, and they are disseminating preventative messaging. They have also supported the routine vaccination of migrants, and stand ready to assist in COVID-19 immunization.
In Serbia, staff and volunteers are involved in the nation-wide vaccination campaign against COVID-19 and have assisted some 447,750 people – from phone calls for vaccination appointments to distributing leaflets, transporting vulnerable people, helping at the immunization points with temperature checks and paperwork – and, in some places, organizing vaccination in Red Cross premises.
National Societies in seven countries (Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain) are additionally scaling up COVID-19 testing thanks to a €35.5 million partnership with the European Commission.
 Data from the World Health Organization (WHO)
Spanish Red Cross
| Press release
Red Cross expands COVID-19 testing in seven countries with €35.5 million EU support
Budapest/Geneva, 19 November 2020 – As Europe continues to experience a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths, the Red Cross will scale up COVID-19 testing with the announcement of a €35.5 million European Commission partnership.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has signed an agreement with the European Commission, financed by the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI), which will see COVID-19 testing carried out by National Red Cross Societies in Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain.
Across Europe, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are scaling up their support to embattled national health systems. The European Commission’s funding will support staff training and allow access to equipment, lab items and reagents to take samples and perform PCR and rapid antigen tests in support of national health authorities’ work.
IFRC Europe Regional Director, Birgitte Ebbesen, said that hundreds of thousands of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers in Europe and Central Asia are working tirelessly to curb the spread of the pandemic.
“We are truly grateful for this contribution, which allows an even stronger European Red Cross and Red Crescent engagement. Our volunteers are already working around the clock to keep their local communities safe and healthy.
“Besides COVID-19 testing, they are also assisting with transporting patients, volunteering in hospitals and health centres where medical personnel are sick or isolating and providing home care services and psychosocial support for vulnerable people. We are deeply grateful for their dedication and selfless work.”
Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety said: “Testing tells us what the extent of the spread is, where it is, and how it develops. It is a decisive tool to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
“Being efficient on testing also requires having the necessary resources, which is why we are stepping up our support to increase Member States’ testing capacity. Support and solidarity are key to overcome this pandemic,” she added.
| Press release
Red Cross raises the alarm across Europe: “Your best defence against this virus is you”
Budapest/Geneva, 14 October 2020 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is urging European governments and its citizens to simultaneously exercise leadership and remain vigilant as COVID-19 ravages the region.
More than seven million people have tested positive for COVID-19 across Europe, and 41 of 54 European countries have recorded a more than 10 per cent increase in positive cases compared to two weeks ago. In 23 of those countries, the increase in cases reached more than 50 per cent.
“Almost 250,000 people in Europe have lost their lives due to COVID-19. Every death is a tragedy, and we must all work together to try and stop further deaths. We need to take collective action and make the right choices now. Keep physical distance, avoid crowds and parties, wear a mask, wash your hands, and isolate yourself if ill. Hard choices now will pay off in the coming weeks. Protect yourself to protect others. Until this storm passes – and it will – your best defence against this virus is you,” said Birgitte Bischoff Ebbesen, Head of the IFRC for Europe.
Dr Emanuele Capobianco, Head of Health and Care of IFRC, said: “We would not be fulfilling our humanitarian obligation if we did not sound the alarm in this dire moment of the pandemic’s trajectory. We ask governments to act with speed, courage and inclusiveness: to step up protective measures without delay, follow scientific evidence and recommendations and support the most vulnerable who are being affected by both the virus and its heavy socio-economic impact. We know it is a very difficult moment which requires difficult decisions: solving the health crisis will help solve the economic and social one.
“We owe it to the hundreds of thousands of front-line workers and citizens who are confronting this pandemic with great commitment and spirit of sacrifice. We can still turn this tide if we act courageously in this moment,” continued Dr Capobianco.
Across the continent, Red Cross and Red Crescent teams continue to play their part in curbing the spread of COVID-19 and meeting the evolving needs of vulnerable communities:
In the UK, British Red Cross volunteers are responding to a shift in the type of calls to their free COVID-19 support line – with the public increasingly seeking emotional support and help with complex needs.
The situation is similar for the Italian Red Cross, where psychologists taking calls from the public via their toll-free number say common themes are loneliness, fear and shame of asking for help. Youth volunteers with the Italian Red Cross are also reaching out to young people in the country to explain the importance of personal protective measures and offering peer support.
The Netherlands Red Cross is supporting thousands of people who no longer have enough money to buy groceries through the provision of food vouchers, which will cover one meal per day over the coming months.
In Spain there’s been a huge response from young Red Cross volunteers, where more than 21,000 young people are helping the most vulnerable populations affected by COVID-19 by distributing food to people at home, accompanying the elderly, transferring patients and supporting families with educational help and resources for children
And in south-east France, which has been hit by recent severe flooding, in a partnership between the city of Arras and the Red Cross of Pas-de-Calais rescuers have taken to the streets of the city centre to remind people of the importance of COVID-19 safety measures. French Red Cross first aid workers have also been in primary and nursery schools talking to children about the importance of COVID-19 protections.
“Months into this pandemic, we know communities across Europe are craving a return to normality. But the figures confirm we are not out of the woods yet, and as we head towards winter it is more important than ever that we remain socially close while staying physically distant,” Ms Ebbesen ended.
 Source: World Health Organization
| Press release
Red Cross urges public to check on neighbours as Europe braces for heatwave
Budapest/Geneva, 25 June 2019 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is calling on people to check on vulnerable neighbours, relatives and friends as Western Europe readies itself for possible record high temperatures.
According to European meteorological offices, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Hungary and Switzerland can expect temperatures in the mid to high-30s during the week, with temperatures potentially climbing to 40°C in Paris on Thursday (27 June).
IFRC’s Europe Region health coordinator Dr Davron Mukhamadiev said:
“The coming days will be challenging for a lot of people, but especially older people, young children, and people with underlying illnesses or limited mobility.
“Our message this week is simple: look after yourself, your family and your neighbours. A phone call or a knock on the door could save a life.”
Across Western Europe, Red Cross staff and volunteers are on high alert. In France, volunteers are patrolling the streets, providing water and hygiene kits and visiting isolated and older people in their homes.
“If necessary, the emergency operations centre at our headquarters can be opened to coordinate the response to this emergency,” said French Red Cross spokesperson Alain Rissetto.
In Spain, 50 staff in the Red Cross operations centre are currently calling vulnerable and older people to check they are safe and to give advice on how to cope with the heat. And in Belgium volunteers are distributing water and checking on older community members.
Climate change is projected to increase the frequency and intensity of heat extremes globally, underscoring the urgent need to manage heatwave risks effectively and to prevent avoidable strain being put on already stretched health care services. The risks are particularly high in cities, where the impacts can be most severe.
Heatwaves can have a catastrophic human toll. In 2003, for example, an estimated 70,000 people died during a record-breaking heatwave in Europe.
Next month, IFRC and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre will launch new guidelines designed to help cities better support their vulnerable residents during heatwaves.