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Uganda Ebola outbreak 2022: The importance of safe and dignified burials

In countries around the world, burial rituals—whether cultural, traditional, or religious—are an important way of honouring the dead and helping people grieve. For many communities, special burial practices enable them to bid farewell to their loved ones in a respectful and meaningful way.Losing someone is never easy. But what if someone you love passes away, and you’re told that the burial traditions your community holds dear may put you all in danger?This is what happened to people in Mubende, Uganda, in September 2022 when the country declared its first outbreak of Ebola in more than a decade. The government barred communities from burying their loved ones due to the risks involved, declaring that burials should be managed by trained safe and dignified burial teams.Ebola is a cruel disease. Deadly when left untreated, and highly contagious, it’s transmitted from person to person through direct contact and bodily fluids. When someone is infected, their families and friends are unable to provide hands-on care. And when someone dies from Ebola, their body continues to be highly contagious for up to seven days, meaning that safe and dignified burial measures must be followed to prevent further infection.Kuteesa Samuel from Mubende knows this all too well. He lost his wife of 20 years, Monica, to Ebola during the 2022 outbreak. Monica was seven months pregnant at the time, meaning Samuel also lost his unborn child.In Samuel’s culture, it’s customary to wash and wrap the body of the deceased. And if a pregnant woman dies in the community, tradition dictates that the foetus is buried in a separate grave. But during Ebola, these practices would have posed a deadly threat to people’s health.Knowing this, the Uganda Red Cross Society were poised to step in.Local, known, trustedUganda Red Cross staff and volunteers are part of the fabric of society in Uganda. They come from the communities they serve, follow the same local customs, and have a deep understanding of people’s needs and sensitivities when disaster strikes.They therefore understood why Samuel’s community felt scared, confused, and reluctant to abandon their traditions.But following sensitive, patient, and repeated engagement from local Red Cross volunteers—who worked hand-in-hand with local health authorities and community leaders—Samuel’s community agreed to a compromise. Monica’s body was left intact and safely buried by trained Red Cross teams following strict health and safety protocols. While a banana flower was symbolically buried in a separate grave to mark the loss of Samuel’s unborn child. “After the health workers engaged and explained everything to us, we came to an understanding. […] If it wasn’t for Uganda Red Cross, we would not even know where the deceased would be buried. They helped us to bury the deceased to ensure we don’t get infected. So, we greatly appreciate the Red Cross,” explains Samuel.Preparedness saves livesSince the last Ebola outbreak in 2012, the Uganda Red Cross Society had worked hard to improve its preparedness for future health emergencies and strengthen its auxiliary role supporting the Ministry of Health during disease outbreaks.With support from the IFRC through the USAID-funded Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3), as well as through an Ebola preparedness emergency appeal (2018-2021) and a Disaster Response Emergency Fund (IFRC-DREF) operation (2018-2020), they undertook lots of different preparedness activities across different parts of the country.Emergency preparedness involves planning for the worst, so one of those activities was developing a pool of qualified safe and dignified burials trainers and teams across the country. These teams were ready to be deployed immediately to support communities like Samuel’s when the 2022 Ebola outbreak began.“CP3 was so instrumental to this response. We were only able to respond on time because we had done preparations. We already had prepared teams, and this enabled us to swiftly respond,” explains Dr Joseph Kasumba, Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Officer with the Uganda Red Cross who led the response.Humanity in the darkest of momentsDuring the 2022 Ebola outbreak, Uganda Red Cross teams conducted a total of 512 safe and dignified burials. These efforts contributed to the outbreak being declared over in a record four months.What’s harder to quantify is the emotional support and meaningful care that Red Cross teams provided to communities in perhaps the worst moments of their lives. For that, here’s some powerful testimony from those affected by Ebola, or involved in the response:“When it comes to Ebola Virus Disease, communities always need someone they can trust, people they can identify with. And the fact that the Red Cross is always part of the community... we know what cultural practices are done. We know what the community wants us to do and they feel confident identifying with us, even in that time of grief and sorrow.” - Dr Joseph Kasumba“We really thank the health workers because they taught us how to protect ourselves. We are still grateful for what they did. It was a miracle for us.” - Janet, Mubende resident“Since Ebola started in Mubende, it is the Red Cross that has walked with us. Every community knows Red Cross here. We appreciate you for the work you’ve done. The people of Mubende appreciate you for offering your lives to stand in the gap and save lives.” - Rosemary Byabashaija – Resident District Commissioner in MubendeIf you found this story interesting and would like to learn more:Visit the Uganda Red Cross Society websiteClick here to learn more about the Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3). Funded by USAID, CP3 supports communities, National Societies, and other partners in seven countries to prepare for, prevent, detect, and respond to disease threats.Sign up to the IFRC’s Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Newsletter.

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Menstrual Hygiene Day: ‘I feel free. I can go to school every day.’

“Do you know what this is?”Esther Sevilla is holding something colorful in her hand. She raises her arm, showing it to a group of students standing in a circle outside the classroom block.“Yes!” the students shout in unison.The muddy ground under everyone’s sandals and dusty shoes is slowly drying after the morning rain. A little boy in gray shorts and a purple shirt, the school uniform here at Kotome Primary School, raises his hand:“It’s a sanitary pad!”He steps into the middle of the circle and receives the pad from Esther, picking up a pair of pink panties from a table. He demonstrates how to attach the pad, amid giggles and embarrassed laughs from the other students.Today, menstruation is on the schedule at this schoolyard in Kapoeta, a small town in eastern South Sudan. This lesson is part of a larger initiative to encourage more girls to attend school. Sanitary pads cost money. When families can’t even afford food, daughters will be left without menstrual hygiene products and will miss school up to a week each month.A volunteer for the South Sudan Red Cross in Kapoeta, Esther Sevilla displays a white cloth bag with the Red Cross emblem, and soon the girls line up to receive one each.“These bags contain pads and panties, but also a flashlight, towel, and clothesline. Washing the pads is important to stay healthy,” she explains.‘Now I can talk’The approach is holistic, going well beyond access to sanitary pads. It’s also about ensuring there is adequate clean water for washing, drinking and household use, and about making sure the entire community in included. The project is just one example that highlights ways in which Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies are putting the theme of Menstrual Hygiene Day 2024 — Together for a#PeriodFriendlyWorld — into action on a local level every day.The boys in the school also receive soap, for example, as it’s important that they feel seen and included as well. Clean water and better latrines are other projects that have been implemented here and in five other schools in town. At neighboring Kuleo Light School, teacher Tonny Okello explains the benefits of the initiative, not just for the girls' education.“We will improve the well and replace the diesel generator with solar panels,” he says. “The generator often breaks down, leaving us without water. There will be a tap here in the schoolyard and one outside the fence for the community to use.”Sixteen-year-old Lona Mude is pleased by these improvements.“Now I can talk to my friends about menstruation; it’s not strange,” she says. “The boys know more and do not harass us. Before, I stayed home three or four days each month. I was worried that people would notice that I had my period and laugh at me.”Only one third of the girls in South Sudan fulfil basic education. Here in one of the world’s most dangerous countries for girls, violence against women is widespread, and half of the young girls are married off before their 18th birthday.‘Now I feel free’This cooperation between the South Sudan and Swedish Red Cross Societies (and with support from the Swedish Postcode Lottery) has reached nearly 10 000 students, parents and community members during the last three years.In villages around Kapoeta, volunteers hold meetings to discuss the importance of girls' education and the dangers of child marriage. They provide information on good hygiene in areas where clean water is scarce and on violence against women and available support.The South Sudan Red Cross works in many ways to improve people’s lives. The world’s youngest country, formed in 2011 after the separation from Sudan, struggles with the consequences of many years of violence and conflict, climate disasters, poverty, and hunger. Emergency aid is provided for survival, alongside long-term efforts like in Kapoeta – striving for change and a future for South Sudan’s boys and girls.And change is happening. More girls can attend school every day of the month, like 13-year-old Jessica Lokidor.“Before I stayed home when I had my period, up to a week,” says Lokidor. “Now I feel free; I can go to school every day. For me and other girls here, school is important. We gain knowledge to share with others. We shouldn’t have to be married off. I want to become a doctor and help people in need.”Text by Anna Lithander

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Menstrual Hygiene Day: After an earthquake destroyed their village, they began stitching their own solutions. It's just one of many stories about our ongoing work on menstrual health.

Words by Joe Baaklini, IFRC Communications OfficerWhen disaster strikes, people are affected in different ways. While shelter, food and water are basic needs for nearly everyone during an emergency, women and girls often find themselves in a particularly vulnerable situation.Often, they find themselves with no access to very essential products that are critical in maintaining their health and well-being: menstrual hygiene supplies.This was the predicament that women and girls in Morocco found themselves in when a 6.8-magnitutde earthquake left a trail of destruction in its wake on September 8, 2023.In the Moroccan village of Ait Youssef, for example, disposable pads were running out, and relying solely on the already strained supply chain wasn't a sustainable solution.To understand the situation and adapt the response to the specific needs of the community, the Moroccan Red Crescent Society (MRCS), supported by the IFRC, decided to talk to the women of Ait Youssef.Together for a #PeriodFriendlyWorldIt’s a perfect example of the kind of community work being celebrated on World Menstrual Health Day, which this year carries the themeTogether for a #PeriodFriendlyWorld. Two of the key goals is to break down the stigmas and taboos that exist around issues of menstrual health and to ensure that women have access to the products they need.Through focus group discussions, the Red Crescent volunteers discovered that most women in the village used to rely on pads distributed by the MRCS, but some resorted to using old cotton sheets as supplies dwindled.Thus, an innovative plan was hatched: introducing reusable, washable menstrual pads as a sustainable, eco-friendly and cost-effective solution for menstrual hygiene management.However, producing the reusable pads was no easy feat, as finding the right materials proved challenging. Travelling hundreds of kilometers in search of suitable fabrics, MRCS teams eventually procured the essentials: cotton sheets for comfort, absorbent materials to trap flow, and waterproof fabric to prevent leaks.The teams even had to get a little creative: the waterproof fabric that they found at first was typically used as the covering for sofas, so it was a bit to thick and rigid. So they found and procured thinner, more comfortable variants.With needles, thread, scissors, and pins in hand, IFRC and MRCS staff and volunteers gathered the women of Ait Youssef for a sewing session. The women, with their existing experience, skills and knowledge, proved to be quick learners. Within two short hours, a batch of reusable pads was complete.“The introduction of reusable pads has provided women with a sustainable and cost-effective menstrual hygiene solution,” said Rihab Abou Kalfouni, IFRC Hygiene Promotion Delegate, who worked closely with the women on the project.“We have received positive feedback from a few of the women who have used the pads,” she said. “They reported increased comfort, improved overall well-being in addition to a reduced amount of waste generated by disposable pads.”“Hopefully, we’ll be able to expand this project in the future and include more women in different communities.”Together for a#PeriodFriendlyWorldThe collaboration between the Moroccan Red Crescent Society, the IFRC, and the women of Ait Youssef stands as a testament to the power of localization and community-driven solutions. It’s also a strong example of the ways in which the theme of World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2024 — Together for a #PeriodFriendlyWorld— is being realized on a daily basis by communities, local Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies and other partners. In a #PeriodFriendlyWorld, the stigma and taboo surrounding menstruation are history and everyone can access the products, education and infrastructure they need.‘Now I feel free … I can go to school’In South Sudan, for example, the South Sudan Red Cross (with support from the Swedish Red Cross), is helping to increase access to sanitary supplies, reduce the stigmas and taboos around menstruation and provide access to clean water for washing and other household use.Not just a women’s issueIn Madagascar, 23-year-old Red Cross volunteer, Valisoa Liesse Razafisalama, has been leading an initiative to challenge societal norms surrounding menstruation. In many post disaster situations, fear of talking about menstruation or other health issues can mean that women do not get the attention, care and supplies they need to stay healthy. Valisoa has organised awareness sessions for both men and women, emphasising the natural and normal aspects of menstruation.“We encourage the equitable inclusion of women in community decision-making, breaking with the trend of prioritizing men,” she says. “We persist in our efforts because as women volunteers, we make significant contributions to the well-being of the communities where we operate.” Ensuring privacy and dignityMenstrual health is also critical in situations where people live in camps or temporary shelters where access to sanitary facilities — public bathrooms and washing areas — are often not adequately private or protected for women and girls.In the massive Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, where more than one million people live in makeshift shelters without running water or electricity, the Bangladesh Red Crescent (BDRCS) provides water and sanitation services to thousands of people.To ensure those places are as private, safe and comfortable for women as possible, BDRCS water and sanitation teams regularly meet with communities and listen to women’s concerns. Recently, they constructed additional privacy walls around washrooms to enhance privacy and comfort for women and girls.With support form the Swedish Red Cross, the BDRCS also regularly distributes sanitary napkins to female community volunteers who spend long hours working in the camp, where access feminine hygiene products is very limited.Learn more more about Menstrual Hygiene and the IFRC network’s response around the world:Discover even morecase studies from our National Societies’ MHM activities in this collectionExplore our wealth of practical guidance, tools and advocacy resources on menstrual hygieneon our dedicated WASH site hereVisit thededicated WASH page on the IFRC websiteVisit theglobal Menstrual Hygiene Day campaign pagefor more information about this year’s themeContact our Senior Officer for WASH in Public Health, Alexandra Machado, for any MHM-related questions:[email protected]*We recognize that not everyone who menstruates identifies as a woman, and that not all women menstruate.

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Guinea Red Cross supports communities in the fight against rabies

Little Ousmane was at home in Faranah, central Guinea, when he noticed a stray dog outside. Curious and wanting to play, he approached the creature. But before he had time to react, the dog leapt up aggressively and bit him on the chest and hand.His grandfather alerted the local Guinea Red Cross volunteers, who arrived quickly to tend to Ousmane, wash out his wounds, and track down the dog for investigation. Thankfully, they were able to arrange for Ousmane to get the necessary health treatment. Lab testing later confirmed the dog had rabies, meaning that without the quick action from volunteers, Ousmane likely wouldn’t have survived.An incident like this is a parent’s worst nightmare and a common worry among communities in Guinea. But through theCommunity Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3), funded by USAID, the Guinea Red Cross is running different activities to reduce rabies risks and make sure deadly dog bites are a thing of the past.Raising community awarenessPreventing the spread of diseases like rabies relies on communities having accurate and trusted information on how they can stay safe.Guinea Red Cross volunteers, known and trusted by their communities, regularly go door-to-door, organize community meetings, and take part in local radio shows—educating people on rabies risks, how it’s spread, and how they can protect themselves.Through this engagement, communities learn the importance of reporting stray animals displaying unusual or aggressive behaviours and of looking out for signs of rabies within their own pets.Supporting vaccination campaignsVaccinating dogs is the most effective preventive measure for reducing the risk of rabies.But for a rabies vaccination drive to be successful, people in the community need to see the value of vaccinating their pets and—crucially—turn up in their droves on the day.That’s where the Guinea Red Cross comes in. While the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock provides the vaccines and veterinary staff to administer them, it’s Guinea Red Cross volunteers who drum up demand within communities and accompany people to their appointments.“Thanks to the vaccination campaign, which we heard about from Red Cross volunteers, our dogs are no longer a threat—they are healthy companions. It’s an act of responsibility for the security of everyone. Vaccinating dogs protects our community,”explains Mamadi Fofana, a traditional healer and hunter from Faranah who was convinced to vaccinate his dogs against rabies.Keeping tabs on the canine populationRabies vaccines don’t last forever, with animals requiring booster shots every 1-3 years to keep them rabies-free. So the Guinea Red Cross has set up a dog database to keep tabs on the canine population in Faranah.Volunteers track when and how many vaccine doses have been administered, and record owner details so they can reach out when it’s time for a booster.If a bite incident occurs, the database helps them to track down the owner to investigate and conduct further engagement around the importance of taking responsibility for their animals.The data is also used by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock so they know how many doses of vaccines are needed when planning dog vaccination drives.Bite response and community-based surveillanceWhen someone in Faranah is scratched or bitten by a potentially rabid animal, Guinea Red Cross volunteers are usually the first to hear about it and arrive on scene.Trained in epidemic control, they can provide crucial first aid. For suspected rabies, this involves vigorously washing out the wound with soap and water for 15 minutes and wrapping it in a clean bandage while awaiting emergency health care.Through a digital community-based surveillance system, calledNyss, volunteers quickly report bite incidents to their supervisors, who can then escalate the alert to local human, animal, and environmental health authorities for rapid investigation and treatment.Time is of the essence when someone is bitten. As the eyes and ears within local communities, Guinea Red Cross volunteers play a vital role in detecting and alerting suspected rabies cases early to maximize people’s chances of survival.The fight against rabies in Guinea is a marathon not a sprint. But with patient and continued engagement with local communities and strong collaboration with authorities in rapidly reporting and responding to bites, the Guinea Red Cross is supporting people in Faranah to stay safe and healthy from this deadly disease.---The activities featured in this article are part of the multi-countryCommunity Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3).Funded by theU.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), CP3 supports communities, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and other partners to prepare for, prevent, detect and respond to disease threats.If you enjoyed this story and would like to learn more,sign up to the IFRC’s Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Newsletter.

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World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day: How a vigilant volunteer helped thwart an emerging cholera outbreak

The city of Tog Wajaale, perched on the Somaliland-Ethiopia border, serves as a crucial crossing point for people and goods, particularly those coming and going from the port of Berbera, located about 300 kilometers away on the Gulf of Aden.It is also a place where an outbreak of any infectious disease could travel quickly — and far — because of the high levels of commerce and people passing through.That’s one reason the swift action of a Red Crescent community health volunteer Nimao Abdi Bade was so critical during the first days of a cholera outbreak in January 2024.Spotting a family with severe symptoms, Nimao recognized the signs and reported their case via a platform managed by the Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS), which then triggered a swift official response from health authorities and the rapid activation of resources from IFRC's Disaster Resonse Emergency Fund.It turned to be the first reported case ofacute watery diarrhoea (AWD) and cholera in Somaliland and it led to a combined and coordinated response that greatly reduced the impact of the outbreak.A vigilant volunteerNimao's vigilance didn't stop at the first case. Tracing the family's contacts, she uncovered more potential cases involving people who had recently crossed the border. This led to confirmation of several cholera cases and a Ministry of Health intervention.Trained by SRCS to identify and reportcases ofacute watery diarrhoea (AWD) and cholera and inspired by her success, she urged others to report illnesses promptly."AWD/Cholera was new to us," Nimao says. "But SRCS training equipped us to respond. I am so proud of myself and being a volunteer of SRCS."The outbreak prompted SRCS to deploy more volunteers for house-to-house visits and hygiene promotion.Nimao's commitment went beyond initial reporting. During her house-to-house visits, she identified five additional cross-border cases, promptly reporting them. These reports, verified by SRCS Community Health Officer Roda Mohamoud Mohamed, led to further investigations. The following day, six more suspected cases were reported and escalated to the Ministry of Health.Empowered by her success, Nimao has become a champion for timely reporting and community-based surveillance. Her diligence exemplifies the vital role volunteers play in strengthening public health responses.SRCS also responded by mobilizing volunteers in Wajaale, another town on the Ethiopian-Somaliland border, and the surrounding areas, as well as the nearby Marodijeh region. The focus shifted to house-to-house visits, hygiene promotion, and raising community awareness about AWD/Cholera risks and prevention.

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Keeping humanity alive by helping communities stay safe from infectious diseases

In the outskirts of Bongor, a town on the western border of Chad, volunteers from the local Red Cross and the French Red Cross are hard at work.In a residential area teeming with children and animals — and under daily scorching heat — the volunteers are organising activities with the community aimed at helping prevent and control the spread of infectious disease.The community here lacks the infrastructure needed to deliver safe water or discharge their wastewater. And because public fountains used for gathering water are not maintained rigorously, the risk of infection here is high.Lack of sanitation systems means that other risky practices, such as open defecation, pose significant hygienic and epidemiological risks.For this reason, the volunteers are raising public awareness about ways people can protect themselves from infection, such as proper cleaning and sanitation of water sources as well as practices to avoid.“The activities raised real awareness among community members,” says Catherine, a 26-year-old volunteer for the Chad Red Cross and local resident. “We notice in particular that the vaccination centre is much busier.”A pharmacy technician, Catherine has been volunteering with the Chad Red Cross for more than a year. She is responsible for raising awareness of the dangers of open defecation.Red Cross volunteers and community members are mobilised three times a week to clean areas most at risk and raise awareness of good practices.“The project will continue to live on its own on the principle of the community transmitting [this information] to the community,” Catherine adds.Catherine is passionate about her work to build knowledge and resilience in her community, and stop diseases from spreading. “The objective,” she explains, “is to fight measles, yellow fever, poliomyelitis, Guinea worm and COVID-19”.The Red Cross volunteers use community disease surveillance methods to keep people safe – recording health-related data about specific issues or incidence of illness affecting the community, and encouraging people to report suspected cases.For Marie-Claire, a state-certified nurse and resident of Bongor who manages a women-led health centre in the city, the Red Cross efforts are effective because they have built trust with people in the community."The Red Cross serves as a trusted intermediary between residents and the health centre,” she says. “The Red Crossconducts disease surveillance and sends pregnant women or those suspected of illnesses for consultations [with the health centre]."The volunteers’ disease-prevention work in various neighbourhoods of Bongor is supported by the Programmatic Partnership between the IFRC network and the European Union. The partnership provides strategic, flexible, long-term and predictable funding, so that National Societies can act before a crisis or health emergency occurs. It is being implemented in 24 countries around the world.

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World Immunization Week: Delivering vaccines and trustworthy information to communities around the world

A mother of four and restaurant owner from Dabola, in central Guinea, Diaraye says she felt scared about vaccines. She didn’t think she had enough information and she’d heard rumours about harmful side effects.Several health workers came to visit her to try and convince her to vaccinate her newborn, Madiou, but she still felt uneasy.That was until she met Bérété, a Guinea Red Cross supervisor with theCommunity Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3).A mother herself, Bérété connected with Diaraye and patiently explained how vaccinating her own children has kept them safe from diseases. She responded sensitively to Diaraye’s concerns.Newly informed and confident, Diaraye agreed for Bérété to take baby Madiou for his first immunizations. Since then, Diaraye has become a champion for vaccination within her community.“My advice to mothers is to agree to their children getting vaccinated," says Diaraye. "Since the Red Cross came to help me vaccinate my baby, I’ve seen that it’s good for children. And I tell all mothers to go and get their children vaccinated at the health centre.”A global story, playing out locally, house-by-houseDiaraya’s story is far from unique. People around the world often don’t have access to life-saving vaccines, do not have all the facts about how they work, or don’t know who they can trust to give them accurate and unbiased information.This is why trusted community organizations, like Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, are playing a critical role in reaching out at the local level, providing trustworthy information while enabling access to vaccines in places that are underserved by health services. In many cases, they are in the midst of ongoing emergencies.This year, World Immunization Week revolves around the theme of Humanly Possible, also the name of a global campaign to celebrate and build on the achievements made in protecting people from preventable diseases during the last 75 years.For its part, the IFRC is redoubling efforts to bring awareness and vaccines to people in vulnerable situations — conflict, outbreaks, forced migration, natural disaster — or who lack access to immunization services for whatever reason.The approach varies to meet the specific situation of each county. They also span the globe, from National Societies in Guinea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, andKyrgyzstan,and many others. Here are a few more examples of the ways Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are taking on a wide range of very different immunization challenges.Philippine Red Cross takes on another measles outbreakThe Philippine Red Cross Society (PRCS) has been supporting the government of ThePhilippinesin responding to a measles outbreak by vaccinating more than 15,000 children ages 6 months to below 10 years old with measles vaccine.As of April 14, 2024, the Philippine Red Cross has vaccinated more than 15,500 children, mobilizing a total of 131 volunteers (35 vaccinators and 96 support volunteers) in 85 communities in four provinces.The PRCS’ measles outbreak response is being donein collaboration with the ICRC, which also has a long-time presence in theBangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, an area where people are impacted by internal conflict. Because of low immunization rates in the area, It's also one of the main places in the country where the measles outbreak is happening.The PRCShas been part of other polio and measles outbreak responses and plans to expand this current operation by deploying vaccination teams from other chapters, with the help ofresources from the IFRC and the United States Center for Disease Control.Using innovation to improve access to immunization in ThailandThe Thai Red Cross Society (TRCS), meanwhile, has been using technology in innovative ways tobring immunization services to people who would not otherwise have access to immunization services.In Thailand, many displaced people and undocumented residents are living without proper forms of identification required to access vaccination services. To address the health gap, TRCS partnered with the Department of Disease Control of the Ministry of Public Health and Thailand’s National Electronics and Computer Technology Center to develop the Thai Red Cross Biometric Authentication System.This system uses a biometric authentication system, using face and iris recognition technology — while still ensuring data privacy — to accurately identify and register vaccine recipients.This allows people without official documentation to still receive vaccines and it enables a way to keep a record of the vaccinations received.Using this technology, TRCS reached 20,000 adolescent girls (specifically ethnic minorities, migrants, and refugees) living in temporary shelters across the country with 40,000 doses of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. This helped to significantly decrease their chances of getting HPV, a major, but vaccine-preventable cause of cervical cancer.If this can be expanded, more displaced persons and undocumented residents can be assured to have access to their next essential vaccine, such as a booster shot.Local presence, ready to prevent and respondOver the long term, immunization campaigns are only fully effective if they are of high quality and result in high rates of coverage. The challenge now is to improve and strengthen routine immunisation to better prevents future outbreaks, while also ensuring there is capacity in place to respond quickly and engage communities — if and when outbreaks occur.This is why the work of National Societies is so critical. As national organizations with widespread local presence, they are ideally suited to work with local and national health authorities and communities to build trust while delivering consistent access to immunization. The video below shows how the Pakistan Red Crescent brings immunization through local clinics.Back in Guinea, Red Cross volunteer Bérété continues to visit Diaraye to make sure her son Madiou is doing well, as part of her work engaging members of her community on how to protect themselves and their families.“We keep supporting her, because every time I send her child to hospital to be vaccinated, I never forget to follow up,”explains Bérété. “Every morning I come to see her to check on the child. Because you can’t just vaccinate a child and leave without following up. If she can see that you are there for her at all times, she will have the courage” to keep up with necessary immunizations in the future.

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World Immunization Week: Afghan Red Crescent mobile health teams bring life-saving immunization and care to people in remote areas

Muhammad Taher, a 40-year-old farmer and his family of eight children, is among the many families who have received life-saving immunization and medical care from Afghan Red Crescent Society mobile health teams.Getting any sort of healthcare in Muhammad Taher’s district, Nahr Seraj of Helmand province, has been a tremendous challenge for decades. Nahr Seraj is four-hour drive from the nearest city, Lashkar Gah, southwestern Afghanistan.For more than two decades now, public health care services in Afghanistan have relied on international financing while the last mile is delivered by various local humanitarian actors.As the IFRC marks World Immunization Week 2024, which this year has a theme of Humanly Possible, the Afghan Red Crescent’s efforts to bring healthcare and immunization to remote rural areas is a impressive example of what can be achieved through consistent, dedicated local presence.Following the historic events that took place in August 2021, a major strain was put on the public health system as donors reorganized their financing models. The transition stretched the system significantly, but a total collapse was prevented through solutions which have enabled continuation of primary and secondary health services.The Afghan Red Crescent Society is one of the local actors engaged in the delivery of primary and secondary health services in the country.The National Society’s network of more than 200 health facilities includes 97 mobile health teams, 46 fixed basic health clinics, 28 sub health clinics, one comprehensive health clinic, and a district hospital. There are also more than 40 health camps supporting routine immunization efforts in various provinces.Life-saving pre-natal care, medication and vaccinationThe ongoing economic hardship means that Taher, and countless others, are unable to pay medical bills or even reach the health facilities located in Afghan cities."My pregnant wife and three of my little girls fell ill recently and needed urgent healthcare but I couldn't afford to take them to the city hospital,” said Taher.“I approached my relatives and neighbours to lend me some money for [the trip], but none were able to help because they too were undergoing tremendous economic hardship.“Finally, one of my relatives mentioned that an Afghan Red Crescent Society mobile health team was operating in our village and suggested that I take my sick family members there.“Without wasting any time, I rushed back home and took my wife and children to where the teams were located. Thankfully my wife was able to get her prenatal checkup done by a midwife, my sick daughters were examined by a doctor and received free medication, and my other children got vaccinated,” he explained in relief.Vital support from partnersAfghan Red Crescent Society health facilities are supported by several partners, including the IFRC. For instance, in 2022 the IFRC provided funding for 47 mobile health teams which delivered primary healthcare and immunization services at least 500,000 people, among them women and children, in rural and remote areas of Afghanistan such as Taher’s district.The 47 mobile health teams have so far operated in many remote provinces including Nangarhar, Kunar, Nooristan, Kandahar, Helmand, Urozgan, Parwan, Sar-e Pol, Bamyan, Paktika, Wardak, Nimrooz, Herat, Badghis, and Jawzjan in the past years.Taher is certain that his family is now much safer after their visit to the Afghan Red Crescent mobile health unit.“My wife and my children are precious to me, and I can't imagine my life without them,” he said. “When they get sick, I get so worried since I have previously lost a close family member because we were unable to reach a doctor in time.“I can't express how grateful I am to the Afghan Red Crescent Society for sending a mobile health team to our village. They are providing life-saving help to people like us in remote rural areas where access to healthcare facilities is so constrained or totally non-existent."In 2023, the IFRC supported the Afghan Red Cresent in administering more than 390,000 doses of vaccines to children under 59 months of age.This included vaccinating more than 5,000 children in their second year of life (12 to 23 months of age) with measles vaccines as part of catch-up efforts, and giving some 46,000 oral polio vaccine doses to children aged between 24 to 59 months as part of intensive efforts to halt wild poliovirus transmission.IFRC’s support to the Afghan Red Crescent is part of its commitment, expressed in the IFRC Health and Care Framework 2023, to support National Societies in reaching “more than six million zero dose children globally and to reinforce both polio eradication efforts and routine immunization strengthening in multiple countries”.National Societies and the IFRC work together to expand routine immunizations to children through integrated service delivery and community engagement approaches. Trusted local healthcare volunteers work within at-risk communities to ensure children receive life-saving vaccinations for preventable diseases such as polio, measles and cholera.Words by Mir Abdul Tawab Razavy | Editing by Rachel Punitha

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Article

Gaza: A family of volunteers, helping others while they themselves cope with the hard realities of conflict

“I wake up early at seven in the morning to attend to the family's needs, then head to the nearby market, which is one kilometer away. I search for something to feed my hungry children.”This is how a typical day starts for Youssef Khoder, a Palestine Red Crescent volunteer from northern Gaza. Youssef comes from a family of volunteers. His mother is an obstetrics nurse, his brother Mahmoud and Ibrahim are also both nurses.“We have been working at the PRCS medical point in Jabalia since its establishment,” he says. “We were displaced and had to move to a shelter center, but now the situation has changed, and we have returned to our homes.”After getting food at the market, Youssef and his wife start a fire to prepare food for their young children. The eldest daughter, Ayloul, is 6 years old. Mohammed is 4, and Ghaith is 2. Then Youssef is off to meet his brothers at the medical point in Jabalia.“We walk 2 kilometers back and forth every day to reach the medical point where we volunteer,” he says. “We carry out our work because it is our humanitarian duty, continuing to serve our people in northern Gaza.”A vital point for community health amid conflictThe medical point consists of a large tent, inside which there are about a dozen rolling hospital gurneys or beds. The medical post in Jabalia, in the Northern Gaza Strip, has remained operational and provided medical and health services to thousands of affected people even when key hospitals went out of service; it continues to provide services despite the shortage of medicine.While his brothers attend to patients, Youssef takes photos as part of his responsibilities documenting the work of his Palestine Red Crescent colleagues. This is important role in documenting the humanitarian needs as well as the reporting to the world what the Red Crescent is doing to try and address those needs.This is not as easy as it may seem. With power outages and damaged communications infrastructure, the simple act of sending the photographs to headquarters is not so simple."After the afternoon prayer, I walk one kilometer to a high-altitude location so I can catch a signal and gain internet access. I spend half an hour sending files to the administration before returning to the medical point. We spend an hour with colleagues before heading back, sometimes stopping by the market to get some food for suhoor and for the next day. However, food is scarce and the prices are very high."During Ramadan, all this was done while fasting from sun up to sun down. After work, they would return home before breaking their fast (iftar). "My family and I sit together. I break my fast with them, pray the Maghrib prayer, have tea, and then return to the medical point on foot. I work for a few hours before coming home late.Concerning food scarcity, it’s like we have been fasting for 6 months, so it’s not just during Ramadan.We continue to work with even greater determination than before, and we pray that we remain able to serve the people, and that Gaza’s dark days will soon pass.”

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Article

Stopping a measles outbreak in its tracks in Sierra Leone

Makuma is a remote coastal village nestled in the north-west corner of Sierra Leone, on the border with Guinea. It’s only accessible by one narrow and bumpy dirt track. Its 2,000 or so inhabitants travel by foot or on motorbikes in the drier months. But when waters rise in the rainy season from May to December, the track becomes unusable—cutting people off from their nearest health centre, some 10km away.Its isolated location, coupled with the high risk of infectious diseases in Sierra Leone, means Makuma could be the perfect breeding ground for an epidemic, if it weren’t for one thing: the presence of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society.Momoh Saio Kamara is Makuma’s local Red Cross volunteer. He grew up in the village and is much loved and trusted, thanks to his work supporting people through the 2014/15 Ebola outbreak.In 2019, Momoh was trained in epidemic control and community-based surveillance through the USAID-funded Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3)—acquiring the skills and tools needed to detect, alert, and respond to disease outbreaks early.So when, in early 2022, people in Makuma started noticing strange symptoms of a mystery illness they’d never seen before, Momoh knew exactly what to do.“One day I was in the village doing house visits. I visited my friend who said there is someone—the nose is red, the mouth is red, the nose runs and there is a rash. I go and look and I thought straight away, it is measles,” explains Momoh.Without hesitating, Momoh alerted his supervisor, Jobel, using a digital community-based surveillance system set up through the CP3 programme. Jobel arrived shortly afterwards on his motorbike to investigate. Seeing the symptoms for himself, he escalated the alert in the system—notifying district health authorities in an instant.“After the alert, I rang the local nurse and called a community meeting to tell the people it is suspected measles,” adds Momoh.A highly contagious viral infection, measles spreads easily among the unvaccinated. It’s a serious illness that can require hospital admission, cause permanent disability, and even kill if not treated properly.Local nurses swiftly arrived and started tracing and registering suspected cases, while Momoh and Jobel went house-to-house to tell people how to stay safe.The following day, a Rapid Response Team from Kambia district hospital arrived to undertake testing, conduct a ring vaccination of nearly 800 children to minimize further infection, and tend to patients.“The Red Cross and District Health Management Team they come. It did not take long. When they arrived, again we called a meeting, we talked to the community. We told them these people have medicine and it is free,” explains Momoh.For N’Mah, a woman from Makuma whose young son caught measles, having Momoh by her side was a huge relief.“My son Morlai fell sick. I had no idea what the illness was and I felt worried and restless. Momoh held a community meeting to let people know he thought it was measles. He told us what he knew about the disease and asked people to tell him if they noticed anyone with the same symptoms. He told us to keep our environment as clean as possible, wash our hands properly, and isolate anyone who showed signs of the illness. I felt really happy because the health services came really quickly,” explains N’Mah.Momoh is one of 250 volunteers in Kambia district trained through the CP3 programme. Together, they are the eyes and ears in hard-to-reach communities, making sure no suspicious health event goes undetected.A total of 124 measles cases were eventually recorded during the outbreak in Makuma. The number could have been significantly higher had it not been for Momoh’s early action, the trust placed in him by his community, and the rapid response from local health authorities.“The successful response which prevented deaths and disability is a result of the early detection and reporting by theRed Cross volunteers, followed by a swift response from the District Health Management Team. It is no exaggeration to say that these volunteers help greatly towards the health care delivery system in Kambia district, especially in public health surveillance,” explains Ishmael Rogers, Kambia District Surveillance Officer.For Makuma village Councillor, Yusif, who has steered his community through difficult times such as Ebola and COVID-19 in recent years, the relief at having Red Cross support in keeping his people healthy is palpable.“I feel happy that Momoh is here. He’s always available for our community – any day, any time. He’s very patient. When our people are sick, he makes sure they are taken to hospital. I feel my community is safe with Momoh. God forbid there is another outbreak, we know Momoh is here for us.”--The rapid outbreak detection and response reported in this article were made possible thanks to the Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3).Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the programme supports communities, National Societies, and other partners in seven countries to prepare for, prevent, detect and respond to disease threats.If you enjoyed this story and would like to learn more:Sign up to the IFRC’s Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness NewsletterFollow the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society on X, Facebook and LinkedInTo learn more about community-based surveillance initiatives within the IFRC please visit cbs.ifrc.org

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Basic page

World Health Day 2024

Everyone, everywhere should have access to good health care and the basic ingredients to a healthy life. The theme of World Health Day in 2024 is 'My Health, My Right', and we could not agree more. Access to health care is a basic human right. My health, my right also means a healthy environment, safe food and water, and strong community readiness for emergencies and epidemics. Sadly, access to those basic ingredients are under threat, due to conflict, climate events, natural calamity and extreme poverty. We invite you to join our ongoing efforts to help people around the world access this most basic of human rights.

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Article

Whether flood, earthquake or other crisis, calamity has immediate and lasting impact on access to clean water

Disasters come in many forms, from the earth-shattering violence of earthquakes to the relentless inundation of floods. Amid the chaos and destruction, one critical need transcends the specifics of the catastrophe: access to clean water.The people of Morocco and Libya came face-to-face with this reality after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck Morocco on September 8, 2023 and then devastating floods that overwhelmed parts of eastern Libya a couple of days later following a massive storm.In the immediate aftermath of these two disasters, dehydration became a threat, which is especially dire for vulnerable populations like children and the elderly. However, the dangers extended far beyond thirst.“Contaminated water, a consequence of disrupted infrastructure or floodwaters spreading sewage, becomes a breeding ground for waterborne diseases like cholera and dysentery,”says Jamilee Doueihy, a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) senior officer for the IFRC in the Middle East and North Africa region.“These diseases can quickly overwhelm already strained medical resources, adding another layer of suffering to an already devastated community.”A delicate balance disruptedDisasters disrupt the delicate balance of water infrastructure. Earthquakes can rupture pipes and damage treatment plants, while floods can leave them submerged and inoperable. This loss of access to a clean, reliable water supply creates a ripple effect, impacting sanitation, hygiene, and the ability to prepare food safely.In the immediate aftermath of a major catastrophe like the massive, sudden flood in Libya, dead bodies near or in water supplies can also lead to serious health concerns.The impact goes beyond immediate health concerns, however. Without water for basic needs, people struggle to maintain hygiene, increasing the risk of infection. Displaced communities facing water scarcity often resort to unsafe alternatives, further jeopardizing their health. Water scarcity can also stall recovery efforts, as people are forced to spend time searching for water instead of rebuilding their lives.The good news is that providing clean water is a powerful intervention in times of disaster.“In both Morocco and Libya, water was an essential part of the relief efforts during the initial phase of the two emergencies,” Doueihy says.In many temporary settlements, which sprang up as people left their unsafe homes, running water and safe drinking water were simply not available. People also lacked access to toilets and sanitation facilities.Along with first aid, emergency tents and other critical supplies, therefore, the Moroccan Red Crescent, the IFRC and other partner National Societies delivered hygiene kits and installed temporary WASH facilities (toilets, showers, water points and incinerators) for people living in temporary settings.In Libya, meanwhile, the Libyan Red Crescent — along with partners in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement — addressed the immediate water, sanitation, and hygiene needs by distributing more than 240,000 bottles of waters and roughly 6000 hygiene kits, among other things.Other National Societies supported the efforts. The German Red Cross, for example, supported the installation of two water treatment plants, which were later replaced with filtration systems that better respond to evolving needs. To date, five simple desalination plants have been installed, in addition to the maintenance of groundwater wells, among other efforts.The next big challenge, Doueihy says, is to help communities develop longer-term solutions.“We provided clean drinking water for the affected population, but thegradual shiftfrom emergency phaseto a long-term recovery phase means that sustainable solutions – such as repairing damaged infrastructure – are needed to restore water security andthe communities’ ability to access clean water.”Water security is not a luxury in the face of disaster, it's a lifeline. By prioritizing clean water access in short-term and long-term disaster response, we can save lives, prevent disease outbreaks, and empower communities to rebuild.-Support the people of Morocco and Libya on their way to recovery by donating to the two Emergency Appeals:Morocco: Earthquake andLibya: Storm Daniel.

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Basic page

Islamic humanitarian giving

As the world’s largest network of locally based humanitarian organizations and volunteers, the IFRC is uniquely positioned to ensure your Zakat or Sadaqah donation reaches the people and communities who need it most. Fully accredited for receiving Zakat donations, we are based in communities alongside those we support. We act before, during and after disasters and health emergencies to meet the needs of, and improve the lives of, vulnerable people—reaching millions every year.

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Article

World Radio Day: How radio helps keep communities healthy and safe

Though we’re living in an increasingly digital world, radio remains an important source of information, entertainment, and connection in countries across the globe.This is especially true among rural communities, for whom radio is often the most trusted—or sometimes only—source of news and information for miles around.Imagine you’re living in one of these communities, far from the nearest health centre. You notice people are falling sick and you don’t know why. Seeking answers, you tune into your local radio station.The presenter is talking about the ‘mystery illness’ in a panicked way, saying how gruesome the symptoms are, how many people have died, and how you should avoid infected people at all costs. He’s heard the illness could be some kind of curse, and that apparently drinking salty water can protect you.Hearing this report, and with no other sources to turn to, you’d probably feel scared and unsure of what to do.But imagine you tuned in and heard a totally different show. The presenter calmly offers practical information about the disease—its name, symptoms, how it spreads, and measures you can take to protect yourself. He interviews a local doctor you know and trust who responds to common questions and concerns.You’d feel reassured and have the information you need to keep you and your family safe.In several countries, the IFRC and our National Societies are partnering with local media to do exactly this: provide life-saving information before, during, and after health outbreaks.As part of the Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3), we’ve been working with the charity BBC Media Action to train journalists and Red Cross Societies from seven countries in Lifeline Programming: special media programming that provides accurate, practical, and timely information in a health or humanitarian crisis.National Societies regularly partner with media outlets to broadcast helpful information that keeps communities healthy and safe from a wide range of diseases. Let’s look at some examples.KenyaIn Bomet and Tharaka Nithi counties, Kenya Red Cross teams up with local radio stations and county health services, reaching hundreds of thousands of people with useful health messages on how to prevent diseases such as anthrax, rabies and cholera.Information is shared in simple language. And listeners can call in to ask questions or suggest health topics for discussion.“At first, media was known for reporting two things, maybe: politics, and bad things that have happened in society. But the Red Cross helped us […] use the media in educating the people about disease,” explains Sylvester Rono, a journalist with Kass FM trained in Lifeline programming.“I am now proud to say that this has really helped our communities. Our people are now appreciating why we should vaccinate our pets, why we should go to the hospital when we have a bite, why we should report any [health] incident, and when you see any sign of diseases, be it rabies, be it anthrax, be it cholera […] the importance of reporting it earlier,” he adds.CameroonIn late 2021, a cholera outbreak threatened the lives of communities in the North region of Cameroon—a rural part of the country where communities are widely dispersed.As part of its response, the Cameroon Red Cross teamed up with local radio stations—launching a series of community radio programmes to share information on how people could protect themselves, what symptoms to look out for, and where to access help if they fell sick.Themes for the programmes were selected in partnership with community leaders. And after the shows broadcast, Red Cross volunteers headed out into their communities to reinforce the messages shared on air through door-to-door visits.“The radio programme is very good, because it has given me practical information. I had a cholera case in my family, but based on the measures I heard on the radio, I was able to save my sister’s child who was sick,” explained Talaga Joseph, a listener who called into FM Bénoué—one of the participating radio stations.Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)In DRC, harmful rumours and misinformation about COVID-19 and other diseases have spread across the country in recent years. For example, some people believed the COVID-19 vaccine was a source of income for the government and had no benefit to society, while others believed the measles vaccine was less effective than traditional remedies involving cassava leaves.To address these rumours, DRC Red Cross volunteers went door-to-door to collect community feedback and record common myths and misconceptions. After analysing the feedback, DRC Red Cross staff took to the airwaves—launching interactive radio shows to directly address and debunk health misinformation and provide trusted advice.For example, in Kongo Central province, the DRC Red Cross partners with Radio Bangu to produce a show called ‘Red Cross School’. Listeners call in to check information on different diseases, ask questions, and discover what support they can access from the Red Cross.“The collaboration with the Red Cross is very good and has enabled listeners to learn more about its activities and how they can prevent different illnesses and epidemics. The Red Cross broadcasts are so popular they have increased our overall number of listeners in the area we cover,” says Rigobert Malalako, Station Manager at Radio Bangu.--The activities with local radio featured in this article are just a few examples of media partnerships developed through the Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3).Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), CP3 supports communities, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and other partners to prevent, detect and respond to disease threats.If you enjoyed this story and would like to learn more, sign up to the IFRC’s Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Newsletter.You can also access the following resources:BBC Media Action’s Guide for the media on communicating in public health emergencies (available in multiple languages)BBC Media Action’s Lifeline programming websiteIFRC Epidemic Control Toolkit

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Press release

IFRC Global COVID-19 study: vaccine bank an ‘essential element’ of next pandemic response

Geneva/Panama City/Buenos Aires – 31st January 2024Governments need to prepare for the next pandemic by establishing an international ‘vaccine bank’ which ensures the availability and distribution of vaccines equitably in all regions of the world.That’s the central recommendation of a new report following a huge study into the impact of COVID-19 and authorities’ reactions to it. The report is being released exactly four years on from the IFRC’s first Global COVID emergency appeal, on 31st January 2020.The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) commissioned researchers from the Humanitarian Observatory, an IFRC reference centre hosted by the Argentine Red Cross, to carry out a major research project. For it, they’d carried out interviews with 16,027 people, working in collaboration with 90 Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies.People from different sectors were asked about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Strategic partners from the private sector and trade unions also collaborated in conducting the surveys.Participants were chosen to represent people working or active in six societal sectors - healthcare, academia/education, transport, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the corporate sector and the media. The study looked for both common trends and contrasts across geographies and sectors. Its aim was to develop recommendations so that the next pandemic can be handled better than the last.The study – ‘Insights Gained by Strategic Sectors During the Pandemic’ – found:Nearly 70% of people in all sectors and regions had a high fear of catching COVID-19. People in the Americas and/or working in healthcare had the highest fear.More than half of all respondents said their personal finances were affected by the pandemic.54% of participants interviewed said their government handled the pandemic well. The percentage was highest across Africa and lowest across the Americas.Almost half of all respondents working in healthcare and the media felt ‘discriminated against’ for the role they played during the pandemic.The vast majority of interviewees said they received no priority for vaccinations despite the important roles they played during the pandemic.The main recommendations of the report include:Creating a global vaccine and antidote bank to ensure the availability and distribution of supplies equitably in all regions.Establishing priorities for vaccination or delivery of medicines to those who enable the world's citizens to receive food, medical care, news and education.Carrying out a communication campaign from a supranational body that values the actions of the essential sectors to legitimise their tasks and recognize their work.José Scioli, Director of the Humanitarian Observatory of the Argentine Red Cross said:"Some of the answers to the main challenges require establishing efficient processes on a global scale. That is why it is so central to take these global lessons to ensure that we can all – as humanity as a whole - learn from our experience and emerge stronger. We are convinced that we are capable of learning from our past to improve the present and future. With the insights from the Humanitarian Observatory’s study, we can promote the exchange of information to improve our societies."Xavier Castellanos, IFRC Under Secretary General said:“The COVID-19 pandemic led to the biggest worldwide disruption to normal life in a generation. But its impacts were disproportionate. Often, for example, vaccines were distributed on the basis of money, not need. Those who contributed most to helping the vulnerable through the pandemic were too often treated the worst. This important study offers a path to handling the next pandemic better. Its ambition and scale means its recommendations carry weight. “The full report can be downloaded in English here, and from here via the ‘Descargar Informe’ link in Spanish, French and Arabic.There are downloadable graphics and animations to add to coverage hereFor more information or to set up an interview: [email protected] Geneva: Andrew Thomas +41 76 367 65 87In Buenos Aires: Jose Scioli +54 911 64551193In Panama: Susana Arroyo Barrantes +507 6999 3199

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Article

A deadly start to 2024: Cholera in Zimbabwe spreads rapidly after holiday season

Almost a year ago, the first patient with cholera in Zimbabwe was reported in the town of Chegutu, located about 100 kilometres southwest of the capital Harare. Throughout 2023, the numbers have only increased, as the disease spread to all the country’s ten provinces. During the recent holiday period, there was an additional steep increase as people travelled and gathered to celebrate with their extended families, giving the disease new opportunities to spread. “Our worst fears and predictions for the post-holiday season are confirmed with this upward trend of people contracting cholera," says John Roche, head of IFRC's Country Cluster Delegation for Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.“This is especially worrisome for people with vulnerable health, who are the most affected and urgently need assistance.” "With schools starting again and people going back to work, we must act quickly to reduce the numbers now. We have no time to lose; we need to break the cycle as every life in jeopardy is one too many.” No time to lose For this reason, speed is of the essence. Cholera spreads rapidly and easily. Simply drinking or eating something infected with the cholera bacteria can result in infection. This can lead to severe diarrhea and vomiting, sometimes so intense that people lose litres of water per day. The dehydration that followed can lead to death if measures are not put in place to rehydrate quickly. In the capital city, many people live in close quarters and hygiene measures are poor, increasing the risk of becoming ill. With thousands of suspected cholera cases in the capital, Harare has declared a state of emergency. Additionally, sewage and water infrastructure in many places in the country are in dilapidated condition requiring major rehabilitation. Sewage blockages are common, contributing to the rapid spread of the disease. Moreover, people struggle to access clean water for cooking and drinking. Red Cross ready to help Since the beginning of the outbreak, volunteers, and aid workers from the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS) have been taking action to combat the spread of cholera and provide care for patients. Volunteers have been visiting communities to inform people on how to protect themselves and their loved ones, as well as what to do if they become ill. ZRCS has also been supporting the Ministry of Health in setting up Cholera treatment to allow individuals with symptoms of cholera access to appropriate care. A total of nine Oral Rehydration Points (ORPs) have been set up throughout the country (in Harare, Mutare district, Masvingo district and Mashonaland). These locations were chosen based on the presence of trained volunteers conducting door-to-door cholera awareness sensitization. A community feedback mechanism has been setup and there are currently community feedback meetings and suggestion boxes at numerous health facilities. So far, community outreach volunteers have connected and shared information with over 171,000 people. To ensure that Red Cross teams can act promptly, the IFRC’s Disaster Response Emergency Fund (IFRC-DREF) allocated roughly 500,000 in June 2023 to support immediate response efforts. Unfortunately, cholera spreads rapidly, and ZRCS needs more funds to ensure that the number of infected individuals reaches zero. For this reason, the IFRC and its members are urging people to support its emergency appeal seeking CHF 3 million to support the ZRCS reach 550,455 people with life-saving assistance and help to contain the outbreak. “This support is vitally needed to combat cholera and help ensure that no more lives are lost to this disease,” says IFRC’s Roche.

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Article

Hunger crisis: ‘Now I can take care of my own family’

In the Lubombo region of Eswatini, near the town of Big Bend, 39-year-old Bongani Masuku looks over at his field of maize. He just harvested a section last week. “But there is still work to do,” Bongani says and starts working the land. Lubombo is one of the hottest areas in Eswatini. As Bongani weeds his field, the temperature has already risen to over 34 degrees. “I remove the weeds so that my maize will grow properly,” he says. “If I let the weeds take over, the seedlings would grow to be very thin and not offer good harvest.” Earlier in the season, Bongani attended an agricultural training, after which he received a cash grant of around 70 euros. He invested the money in maize seeds that are more resilient to drought, as climate change has made rains more irregular and increased drought. Around 70 per cent of Eswatini’s population are directly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. This is why the changing weather conditions are extremely concerning. “The recent heatwaves have really made farming more difficult. The maize should not receive too much sunlight when it is blooming. Rain is important at that stage. The last time the maize was in bloom there was no rain at all, so my harvest was smaller than I expected.” The maize field has a great significance to Bongani. “This allows me to feed my family, but also to sell some of the crops and get money,” he adds. “This money helps me put my children to school. I have five children with my darling wife. Now I can buy them schoolbooks and other school supplies, like pens. If I make enough money, I can also buy them shoes to wear to school.” Prolonged food insecurity Like elsewhere in Southern Africa, people in Eswatini are suffering from a severe and prolonged food security crisis that began in 2015. The drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon, further strengthened by climate change and the irregular rains and floods ever since, have damaged harvests year after year. Bongani is one of the 25,500 people included in the three-year project funded by the European Union to improve food security by means of cash assistance. In addition to the Finnish Red Cross, the project includes the Baphalali Eswatini Red Cross Society and Belgian Red Cross Flanders. For recipients of the cash grants such as Winile Masuku, the cash assistance has meant the ability to buy food such as rice, maize flour and cooking oil at a time when regular food sources are far less plentiful and more expensive. “Before receiving cash assistance, we were dependent on our neighbours,” Winile explains as she sits in front of her home – its walls made of intricately woven branches and stonework. “Now I can take care of my own family.” Gardening for change While not everyone is a farmer, many people in Eswatini grow a portion of their daily sustenance in local community gardens. This is one reason this climate-resilience project also aims to revive the tradition of community gardens. Part of that effort includes trainings from the Ministry of Agriculture on how to most effectively tend community gardens in the face of more extreme climate conditions. After each training, participants get a cash grant of around 35 euros to buy plant seeds, for example. The participants are encouraged to use crop varieties that require less water. “The garden offers stability to my family, as I employ myself with this and take care of my family,” says Sibongile, one of the participants. “The harvest from the garden allows me to feed my family, and I can also sell some crops to get money for my children’s education.” Health in the countryside It’s also important to ensure that people stay healthy as drought and heat can create conditions that exacerbate the spread of diseases and symptoms such as dehydration. For this reason, the EU-funded project also supports the community in epidemic and pandemic preparedness. The Baphalali Eswatini Red Cross Society runs three clinics in the country, and the project supports their capacity to respond to different epidemics, such as diarrhoeal diseases, tuberculosis and HIV. “Each morning we offer health advice, meaning that we tell patients what epidemics are currently ongoing,” explains Phumlile Gina, a nurse at the clinic in Hosea Inkhundla in the Shiselweni region. “Right now we are informing them of vaccinations, especially against the coronavirus and tuberculosis. We also highlight proper hygiene: we explain how important it is to wash your hands and also remind people to wash their water containers every now and then.” “Some of our patients here in the countryside are very poor,” she adds. “They can come to the clinic for some completely other reason, for a flu for example. But we may then notice that the growth of the patient’s child is clearly stunted and there is reason to suspect malnourishment.” “We are able to take care of such situations as well and monitor the condition of the patients. It feels great when a patient comes back to the clinic after six months and says that their child is doing great and playing like other children.” The Programmatic Partnership between the IFRC network and the European Union, provides strategic, flexible, long-term and predictable funding, so that National Societies can act before an emergency occurs. It is being implemented worldwide including 13 countries in Africa.

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Article

Uganda: School Health Club helps students and communities stay safe from diseases

“The School Health Club has taught us how to look after our health. I also bring the knowledge I learn from the club to my home, and my parents take those messages to the wider community.”These are the words of Kikanshemeza, a pupil at Mwisi Primary school in south-west Uganda and proud member of her School Health Club.Set up by the Uganda Red Cross, the School Health Club helps primary and secondary school pupils understand how to protect themselves from various disease threats, stay healthy, and share their newfound knowledge with their fellow pupils, families, and wider communities.It’s one of the many different activities under the Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3) – a multi-country programme run by the IFRC and seven Red Cross National Societies to help communities, first responders, and other partners prepare for, detect, prevent, and respond to health risks.Since joining her School Health Club, Kikanshemeza has built a tippy tap—a simple, low-cost handwashing facility that can help reduce up to 50% of avoidable infections—in her home, supported her family to use it regularly and properly, and shared life-saving information about different diseases.“She told us not to eat the meat of animals that have died and to make sure they are buried properly, and also that bats are a potential cause of Ebola and monkeys can transmit it too,” explains Kikanshemeza’s mother, Annet.Knowledge is powerKikanshemeza is one of 30 School Health Club members at Mwisi Primary school. The club meets up once a week in special sessions led by Akampurira, a facilitator from the Uganda Red Cross, who teaches them all about different diseases—including how to recognize signs and symptoms, which people might be most at risk, and actions the students can take to stop diseases from spreading.Club members are then responsible for maintaining school handwashing facilities, making sure all students follow proper hygiene practices, and sharing what they’ve learned with their follow students—often through large, theatrical performances in the school hall.Students act out informative and lively scenes: everything from a patient seeking help from a doctor after noticing signs of malaria, to a person being bitten by a dog in the street and rushing to get vaccinated.Tackling serious health issues in this more fun and light-hearted way helps break down complex topics, keeps fellow students engaged, and helps them retain the knowledge in case they need it in future.Why involve school children in epidemic preparedness?The IFRC and our member National Societies have long focused on helping people prepare for, respond to, and recover from epidemics.We know from experience that effective epidemic preparedness must involve communities themselves, first responders, and partners from across all parts of society – such as schools.“School health clubs have been a game changer in health risk communication, as engaged learners have been excellent peer educators in school, and also change agents at the household level,” explains Henry Musembi, CP3 Programme Delegate for Uganda and Kenya.“The clubs are a great platform for training the next generation of epidemic emergency responders and champions in target communities,” he adds.Seeing positive changeKushaba, another School Health Club member whose brother had previously suffered from malaria, says he’s learned a lot from the club and has noticed positive change in his community:“We learned how we can control malaria by slashing compounds, draining all stagnant water to destroy habitat for mosquitoes, and how you can use a treated mosquito net.”“Before the introduction of the School Health Club, we didn’t have tippy taps, we didn’t know how to use toilets, even how we can clean our school. Pupils, they were suffering from diseases like malaria, cholera, but now because of the School Health Club, they are fine,” he adds.--The School Health Club in Mwisi is one of several set up in Uganda and other countries through the Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3).Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the programme runs in seven countries and supports communities, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and other partners to prevent, detect and respond to disease threats.If you enjoyed this story and would like to learn more:Visit our Epidemic and pandemic preparedness webpageSign up to the IFRC’s epidemic and pandemic preparedness newsletter

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Article

From bombing to blackouts: Palestine Red Crescent teams navigate life-and-death challenges to save lives

Ever since armed violence erupted in Israel and the Gaza Strip on October 7, the work of emergency service crews has continued non-stop, often in the most harrowing of circumstances.Every day, Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) ambulance crews head out into the streets of Gaza, saving lives while risking their own, as even ambulances and hospitals have come under attack.Since the beginning, PRCS teams have been tirelessly responding, providing first aid and psychosocial support, transporting the dead and distributing essential aid as the fighting continues.Sadly, four PRCS volunteers lost their lives while on duty, making their colleagues’ work even more difficult as they try to cope with the loss.“To be completely honest, I am afraid, much like everyone else,” Haitham Deir, a PRCS paramedic working at the Rafah branch. “I left my children at home with no access to food, water or electricity. When I’m on duty, I call them periodically to check on them, and this constant worrying is overwhelming, adding to the fact that we face gunfire and constant bombing, and some of us get injured or die.“All of these challenges take a toll on our psychological well-being. Nevertheless, we persist. It’s a moral obligation, and I will continue to work until the very end.”‘Our eyes and ears’Apart from the incessant bombing and gunfire, PRCS crews have been struggling with intermittent communications blackouts, which means there’s often no way for people to call in for an ambulance when there is an attack.This has heavily obstructed their response. However, the PRCS ambulance teams have found creative ways to ensure paramedics can find people when there is an urgent need.“We strategically placed our ambulances, and we had to use our eyes and ears to watch out for bombings,” says Mohammed Abu Musabih, director of operations and emergencies for the PRCS in the Gaza strip. “Teams were then dispatched to areas that were bombed, because that’s where people will most likely need assistance.”“We also placed ambulances near hospitals, and we relied on arriving ambulances carrying injured people to give us information about the location they came from,” he continued. “The ambulance crews then headed off to the location.” Unfortunately, in most cases, even the most creative attempts have been ineffective as PRCS teams find it extremely difficult to reach people in need due to infrastructure damage, roadblocks and military sieges going on in various parts of the city.Supplies running out, winter coming onThe situation inside Gaza hospitals has been all the more tragic, with doctors and nurses resorting to traditional medicine as supplies ran out. Many hospitals were forced to suspend their services due to lack of fuel.Thousands of Palestinians have also sought refuge in hospitals, but after coming under siege, many people - including the sick and wounded - had to evacuate, with nowhere to go.A great deal of affected people in Gaza are currently living in tents or open spaces; this leaves them extremely vulnerable as winter approaches, and with it comes the threat of flooding and the potential spread of disease. PRCS ambulance crews and other volunteers will be there doing whatever they can to ensure people get the best possible care under the circumstances.As of December 11, PRCS crews have provided emergency care to more than 11,000 people and they transported the bodies of more than 3,500 people who died due to the fighting. Crews in the West Bank have cared for more than 3,000 injuries and transported more than 80 people killed in the conflict.“Ever since the hostilities began, the Palestine Red Crescent Society teams and volunteers were on the frontline saving lives, day-in and day out, with no break,” says Hossam Elsharkawi, regional director for Middle East and North Africa.“The unprecedented level of challenges they faced is beyond comprehension. We highly salute them; they have shown humanity at its best. In parallel, we call on the international community to fast-track diplomatic solutions that address root causes, including an end to the inhumane siege on Gaza, and enable more humanitarian aid to get into all parts of Gaza, including fuel.”

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Article

Champions of change: Togolese Red Cross Father's Club fights for women’s rights

In the heart of Togo’s capital, Lomé, a group of men are rewriting the narrative of their community. They’re members of the Togblékopé Father's Club, and they’re on a mission to become champions for women. Set up by the Togolese Red Cross in 2013, the Father’s Club seeks to tackle the harmful attitudes and behaviours holding women in the country back. It began when the Togolese Red Cross Society discovered that many pregnant women in Lomé weren’t accessing the healthcare services they needed—in some cases because they didn’t have the means, but in others because their male partners simply weren’t letting them. So volunteers set up the Father’s Club to bring men in the community together and help them understand why it’s important to respect, and stand up for, women’s rights and needs. Ten years on, members are now dubbed ‘Papa Champions’ and proudly advocate for women’s reproductive health, tackle gender-based violence, and act as role models for other men in their community. Sama Abdou Rahime Arabiou, Togolese Red Cross volunteer and President of the Togblékopé Father’s Club, is the driving force behind the initiative and has a heart full of compassion. He believes women are integral to the well-being of every community and deserve to live as freely and happily as men. The first priority for the Father’s Club was reproductive health. Traditionally, women in Togo have had limited access to information about family planning and reproductive health services. So Papa Champions headed out into their community to share trusted health information with men and women. “We do door-to-door sensitization. We talk to men about the benefits of breastfeeding and other health-related activities,” explains Sama. Women in Togblékopé report seeing a big difference in their partners and in community attitudes towards women, thanks to the Papa Champions. “Before, there were some women who couldn’t do anything. They did nothing and were always at home. But through our meetings, their husbands let them start businesses. They now accompany their wives to the hospital for the prenatal consultation for childbirth,” says Azoumi Boukari, a mother from Togblékopé and member of a local Mother’s Club set up by the Togolese Red Cross. Papa Champions are also very active in tackling the pervasive issue of gender-based violence, often running workshops for men on understanding consent and respecting women’s boundaries. They also patrol their neighbourhoods to ensure women can walk safely without fear of harassment, intervening whenever they see a woman in distress and setting a positive example for younger generations. “Since this club was started in our community, I have seen a lot of changes in my husband…They [Papa Champions] have brought joy to our homes,” adds Azoumi. The Togblékopé Father's Club has proven that men can, and should, be powerful allies in the fight for women's rights and gender equality. Not only have they improved the lives of women in their community, they’ve set a precedent for a more equitable society in Togo—in which being a ‘champion’ for women is no longer noteworthy, it’s the norm.

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Speech

IFRC Secretary General statement at the High-level meeting of the General Assembly on Universal Health Coverage

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. UHC political declaration marks one of the most ambitious gatherings on health. I am happy to share the perspective of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on this important topic. Through our experience reaching 1 billion people with health services during COVID-19, I can tell you that a primary health care approach is the only way we stand a chance to achieve universal health coverage and to ensure no one is left behind, both in times of crisis and stability. Resilient health systems focused on primary health care (PHC) with enough trained health workers, data capacity, and well-functioning basic services are better prepared to prevent and respond to health emergencies. Health emergencies often differ from other emergencies in their complexities, their scope, durations, and in response approach. Here are the shifts needed to embed the PHC during health emergencies, this comes from the IFRC study on recent COVID19 pandemic: First and foremost: trust. Governments must do the groundwork to build trust with the public before health emergencies - people won’t use even the best health systems if they don’t trust them. How do we do this? -Proximity: People trust people they know, such as community members. -Education: People trust what they understand, via health literacy programmes. -Listening: People trust those who listen to them and act on their concerns, such as trained community engagement specialists who gather feedback and analyse it. -Access to services: People trust those who address their needs, including their basic health and social protection needs. -Ownership: People trust measures they feel ownership of and are consulted on. Second is equity. Do not exclude anyone. Equity is fundamental element of embedding PHC during emergencies. Migrants, refugees and other disadvantaged communities are the worst impacted by health emergencies. We need to address formal and informal barriers to access to health and other essential services, including stigma and discrimination. Data driven decision making significantly helps to ensure inclusion. Embedding a PHC approach requires integrating health information systems to facilitate real time data sharing and evidence-based decision making. Finally, local action. Strong Community Health Systems that combine the power of communities and technologies: We must prioritize health systems strengthening at the community level, with a well-resourced and protected community health workforce to match. To do this, a much greater portion of existing health financing needs to go to the local level. Universal health Coverage plans must be tailored to the communities they serve by putting them at the center of policy design. It is groundbreaking that governments have committed in paragraph 104 of the declaration to involve local communities in the design of universal health coverage plans, and to find ways of enhancing participatory and inclusive approaches to health governance. Excellencies, humanitarian needs are only growing, and global health is at a crossroads: without systemic change, we will only achieve health for some, and not health for all. Strong governance and leadership are expected of all of us. In the decades since the Alma-Ata Declaration, the international community has focused more on diseases rather than on individuals, and on treatment rather than on prevention. We can’t continue down the same path and expect a different result. Today must represent a shift towards a community-driven, primary health care-first model to global health systems. Thank you.

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Press release

Rebuilding after 2022 Pakistan floods: IFRC reiterates continued need for support

Geneva/Kuala Lumpur/Islamabad, 1 September 2023: A year since the devastating monsoon floods wreaked havoc across Pakistan, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) calls for sustained support. With a mission to rebuild lives and foster resilience, the IFRC seeks global investment in recovery efforts to empower communities grappling with the aftermath of the disaster. The 2022 monsoon floods, which left an indelible mark impacting 33 million people and claiming over 1,700 lives, also led to the destruction of nearly a million homes. Responding to this unprecedented catastrophe, IFRC, in collaboration with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS), swiftly launched the Floods Emergency Appeal. This aimed to channel aid to more than one million affected individuals. Through the dedication of a network of 1,400 volunteers, this collective response achieved over 50 percent of the 40 million Swiss Francs appeal target through both hard pledges and in-kind contributions. During the response phase, PRCS, in collaboration with IFRC and movement-wide partners, provided extended critical assistance to over 315,000 people for health, around 298,600 people for hygiene activities, and over 317,000 people with shelter assistance, among other forms of support. The operation faced challenges due to damaged infrastructure and extensive flooding, affecting millions of people. As flood-affected communities embark on the path to recovery, Sardar Shahid Ahmed Laghari, Chairman of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, reflected: "We are unwavering in our dedication to empowering these communities as they grapple with the aftermath of this catastrophic event. Our recovery efforts, in collaboration with IFRC and our Red Cross Red Crescent Movement partners, encompass a multifaceted approach, including the restoration of livelihoods, the construction of cost-effective permanent model houses and latrines, the establishment of solar-powered water treatment plants, enhancements in health and hygiene, the provision of medical aid, and cash assistance to ensure that families can meet their fundamental needs for well-being and safety. Nevertheless, a substantial resource gap remains, given the enormous needs, particularly in providing permanent shelter, livelihood, and health needs for the affected population. PRCS now appeals to generous donors, from both national and international sources, to continue our mission of reconstructing lives and nurturing resilience." Transitioning from relief to recovery, Peter Ophoff, the IFRC Head of Delegation in Pakistan, calls for solidarity and more support on a global scale. He said: “The 2022 monsoon floods were an unparalleled disaster in Pakistan, causing devastation to lives and livelihoods. As we stand on the threshold of recovery, it is imperative to understand that flood-affected communities require continued support to restore not just their lives but also their lost livelihoods. The urgent need includes livelihood and cash assistance, health and care services, shelter and housing reconstruction, preparedness for effective response, and disaster risk reduction. This comprehensive approach to recovery will have a positive impact on approximately 850,000 people.” To propel this call to action, IFRC and PRCS are extending the response and recovery plan until December 2024. This strategic extension underscores the commitment to long-term impact and sustainable change. However, a funding gap remains. Up to 50 percent of the 40 million Swiss Francs appeal target is still needed to ensure the most vulnerable communities in Pakistan can recover and build resilience against future climate-related shocks. Learn more about the emergency appeal here. For more information or to arrange an interview, contact:[email protected] In Geneva: Mrinalini Santhanam: +41763815006 In Kaula Lumpur: Afrhill Rances: +60192713641 In Pakistan: Peter (Piwi) Ophoff: +923088888053 Syed Muhammad Abubakar: +92 300 8866 886

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Article

Migration in the Americas: The journey from Cucuta

For decades, the border town of Cucuta was a departure point for people escaping Colombia’s instability towards a new life in their eastern neighbour. Now the situation has reversed and each month over 50,000 migrants cross the border from Venezuela to Colombia, many carrying their last possessions on their back. With no money even for a bus ticket most are forced to embark on a perilous high-altitude trek on foot for days through twisting mountain passes, sleeping under the stars in bitterly cold temperatures before reaching the city of Bucamaranga. Here are their stories. Safety in numbers Eighteen year-old Yusmil arrived in Colombia with her brother, and the two joined a larger group on the road for security. As a young female, Yusmil is usually chosen to seek a ride in a car or truck and take the group’s luggage further up the route while the rest of them walk, though without a phone between them, communication is difficult. Yusmil sheepishly explains that she has already spent the last of her money, the $10 she got from selling most of her hair to a barber in Cucuta. With the little she has left, she has made into a braid. “I sold my phone back in Venezuela just before I left, which gave me money for a day or two and when I arrived in Colombia, I sold my hair. The hair cutters gave me 30,000 Pesos ($9) and I have spent it already on rent and food.” she continues: “We don’t know where we’ll sleep tonight, we’ll keep on walking until we can’t walk any more.” “I met Jose and the others at the Divina Providencia shelter in Cucuta and thought it would be a good idea to stick together when travelling. I’m a bit worried because I heard some gangs assault migrants on the road, and I’m not looking forward to the cold weather of the mountains. We don’t have the right type of clothes. We left Cucuta in a group of about twenty-five and tried to help each other out as people fell behind. In the evening, we found a kiosk where a woman gave us some cookies and water to keep us going. We walked for an hour more until we found an improvised shelter and the next morning we got up and just started walking again.” Weaving their way in a new land By the toll booth on the main highway stretching out of Cucuta, the sunlight glints off the yellow and green handbags dangling from the neck and arms of Jesus and Gabriela Campos. But these are no ordinary handbags. Rather than being made of leather, the raw material for these colourful and sturdy apparel is the currency from their native Venezuela. Due to hyperinflation and government devaluations, the small amount of money that Jesus and Gabriela brought to Colombia could not buy anything, so they decided to convert it into a tradeable product. The bags are composed of folded, interlinking rectangles (with denominations ranging from 1,000 to 100,000), all intricately woven by the artisan couple from the coastal city of Valencia. “We take the old bills and turn them into bags, wallets, chequebook holders and purses,” Gabriela explains over the rumble of passing cars and trucks. The Campos’ sell in different areas of town but the toll stop, with the nearby hot dog grill and roaming coffee vendors, attracts a ready supply of cars. “Eight hundred bills make up one bag, which can almost buy you a sweet back home. Two years ago, you could do something with this money but now it’s not possible.” Gabriela has a sick father in the Cucuta hospital, which sometimes takes her away from her day job, but she says that her young children are also learning the family trade from their small home in Villa del Rosario. At the moment it takes a whole day for them to make one bag. A car slows down as a potential customer peers out of his window. Gabriela walks over holding the bags aloft so Jesus continues with his part of the story. “When I arrived here, I was sellingarroz con leche(a traditional rice pudding) that would pay our rent of 20,000COP ($6) per day. Venezuelans wanted to pay me with our currency, one time someone even they gave me 90,000 Bolivares in denominations of 1,000, so I had a lot. I thought that these were going to be worthless shortly, so I might as well try to do something productive with them.” “Back home I used to make ornaments with cigarette packs and paper from magazines and I thought if I can do it with those things, I can do it with the bills,” Jesus adds. “My first customers were some guys doing a charity bike ride, who bought two bags and ordered some more. We can tailor make [these products] depending on what size and style you want. Yesterday I woke up at six in the morning to come to sell the bags at the toll and didn’t finish until late at night.” A medical migration For five-year-old Samuel Garcia, growing up in Le Tigre, eastern Venezuela wasn’t easy, particularly because he suffers from West Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. At first, Samuel’s mother Emily took him each month to the Colombian Red Cross’ health centre in Cucuta for medicine and later for appointments with a paediatrician. Now, Emily is on the road to Medellin where a foundation is offering specialized support. “When Samuel was one year old, he had a lack of oxygen supply to the brain, creating a lesion which led to this condition.” Emily says: “He can’t control his sphincter, and specialist diapers are not available in the country, so Samuel wasn’t accepted into school due to the complexity of his condition.” Scampering around the shelter wearing a Spiderman t-shirt on a warm November afternoon, Samuel seems oblivious that he is in the middle of a lifechanging journey. But Emily explains that their decision to leave became urgent. “As well as autism and problems with movement, he has convulsions and goes into shock. If the convulsions are not treated, they can leave him a vegetative state.” Women sit in a circle in the courtyard as a nurse is splayed on the ground to demonstrate first aid techniques. Suddenly a man is carried through the front door in the middle of a violent seizure and the staff flock to his side. Despite an impressive crowdfunding campaign by Emily (Samuel has an Instagram account) to raise money to import medication from Spain and the United States, this ultimately wasn’t sustainable so the two fled. Emily says she’s been advised that she claim asylum in Colombia on medical grounds. “We have passports but not residency in Colombia, so I want to regularise our status so Samuel can get into special school and get access to specialised healthcare. I was a chef back in Venezuela, but I can’t work legally while applying for asylum.” The doctor across the border Near the Colombian Red Cross health station in Cucuta, a constant flow of people passes over the Simon Bolivar bridge from Venezuela into Colombia. But not everybody plans to stay in Colombia. Bianca Rodrigues’ son Alejandro is the last patient of the day to be checked by exhausted doctors and, after that, the family will make the hours-long journey back to their hometown of San Cristobal, Venezuela. Every week, Bianca takes her children over the border to receive healthcare and medicine that is unavailable back home. “My son Alejandro is just ten months old and today he has a fever. He suffersconstantly from allergies that block his bronchi and that leads to respiratory infections. When he was two and half months old, I first brought him to Cucuta and he was hospitalised for 15 days. I live in San Cristobal, just over the border in Venezuela but there are no paediatricians in my town, so I need to travel to Colombia every week. It’s a hopeless situation – there are no antibiotics, and a shortage of doctors to the point that they only attend emergencies. It’s only 40km away but the transport is very unreliable, and it takes a long time to cross the Colombian border as the police check everybody’s suitcases. It’s my dream to move here but I don’t have any place to stay and day care is expensive. I also have two other children aged 5 and 3. At least in San Cristobal I have my mother who can sometimes take care of Alejandro and the kids while I work. I sometimes come to Cucuta to work as a street vendor selling cookies and that allowed me to save up a bit of money. But since Alejandro got sick that has become more difficult.” “I never thought I would be in this kind of situation” Behind Bogota’s main bus terminal, an informal tented settlement in the woods has spilled over into the nearby roads. Here, Brihan and his family have made their temporary home. Hundreds of migrants have constructed improvised shelters from scavenged materials and line them precariously alongside the roadside. The encampments are divided by train tracks so, occassionaly, a one-carriage locomotive chugs through interrupting people gathered around around small campfires. “I’ve been here for five days with my family, but I don’t know if I want to stay in Bogota. I’m not sure what to do next. I heard Ecuador might be good but if I find work here, I’ll stay. Back home I worked as gardener and cleaned swimming pools. I have three kids aged 8, 3 and eight months and we are giving them a few days to recover after the journey. It took us five days from the border. We only saw one shelter on the way but sometimes Colombians in their cars gave us a ride and handed out food. My son has a fever. When we arrived in Bogota, we went to the hospital and they gave him an injection to boost his defences but in general, they only give emergency treatment for free, and the follow ups cost money. I came here with 2000 pesos (75c) so I can’t afford that. I never thought I would be in this kind of situation and my children would have to see this, but there’s no other alternative. I heard that Ecuador offers free day-care, so we can leave the kids somewhere while we work, and maybe there is a better chance of access to healthcare. I built this shelter last night with the materials our neighbours gave to us. Before that we slept next to the wall with a bit of tarpaulin. This is not a good environment for kids, there are rats here, people here fight all the time and some use drugs. I hope I can get better connected somehow and get a construction job and get them out of here.” Coming home Luimer and Itza spent months pounding the streets for work and accommodation to set themselves up in Bucamaranga before they went back home to bring their two sons. Luimer is now teaching music at a church and Itza a domestic worker for a Colombian lady. After participating in the census, they have their residency papers, are in the process of enrolling their sons in school and hoping to gain nationality through Itza’s Colombian mother. Her experience reflects the overlapping patterns of migration in the region – Itza’s grandmother went to Venezuela decades ago to flee instability, and now her granddaughter is making the return journey. LUIMER: "We are from San Cristobal, Venezuela, near the Colombian border. In my previous life I was a music teacher with 160 students. But then the economy took a downturn. There wasn’t as much work as I was promised so when we arrived, we had to hit the streets, selling chocolates, washing cars, doing construction etc. I have done lots of things I never thought I would do. I could barely use a hammer before. Now I have a job at the Free Life Church teaching keyboards, drums and guitar. In the beginning we were living in a room only about a metre wide. Now I feel that this is our family home, we decorated and set ourselves up, and we have a dog." Every week the local Red Cross organises a social gathering for migrants. A lot of Venezuelans go into their own survival mode when they arrive and don’t always interact with each other so it’s nice to meet up to share stories and make friends. ITSA:"I used to work at a café, on the minimum wage. Then, two years ago, this became not enough to survive. A lot of people have left. My father is in Peru. My brother-in-law and sister are in Chile; friends in Ecuador, cousin in Panama…but my mother and sister are back in San Cristobal [Venezuela] and we left the kids with them while we set ourselves up here, which required a lot of strong will. We like it here because it’s close enough for us to visit our family once in a while. My father has said that he can arrange some work in Peru, but I don’t know if I want to go through the process of moving again." -- 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.

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Article

IFRC statement at the Seventy-sixth World Health Assembly #WHA

Mr Chairperson, Director General, Excellencies and colleagues, On behalf of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and its 192-member Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, allow me to congratulate the World Health Organization on the occasion of its 75th anniversary. Our presence here today is a testament to the vision of the Member State towards WHO’s constitution, who set for it the most difficult, as well as the most relevant objective: achievement of the highest attainable health standard for everyone, without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social status. But it is also a testament to the WHO’s ability to adapt and grow in the face of disasters, war, and crisis, as well as an ever-shifting social, economic and environmental landscape. As a humanitarian organization founded in 1919, IFRC have faced many of these challenges together with the WHO, and we can be sure that the next 75 years will continue to challenge our abilities. Today, our major challenge of equitable access to health care is more elusive than ever, an issue that can only be resolved through political commitments. In that sense, perhaps the most relevant questions, looking ahead, is not what new challenges the next 75 years will bring, but how we will face them. Will we work in coordinated partnership to address the social determinants of health, or will we continue working in fragmented manner? Will our policies and actions be defined by communities and local actors or from places hundreds of kilometers away? And will we have the courage to invest in trusted, resilient, and quality health care, or continue to be essentially reactive? Political and health leaders at this Assembly have opened many doors in the past two years to make way for meaningful change, and these are questions to reflect upon during this Assembly. Thank you. -- More information about the Seventy-sixth World Health Assembly, including videos of the event, can be found on the World Health Organization (WHO) website here.

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Article

São Tomé and Príncipe: Older people receive care and compassion from Red Cross volunteers

"Today, thanks to the centre, I feel better and have regained a taste for life." These are the words of Manuel, 81, a resident of the São Tomé and Príncipe Red Cross welcome centre for the elderly, where volunteers work every day to bring a smile and hope to some of the country's older population. Set up in October 2005, with funding from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the welcome centre has been run by the São Tomé and Príncipe Red Cross for nearly 20 years. Today, volunteers are taking care of 18 residents – people from all walks of life who have come upon hard times and need a little extra help to get by. In Manuel’s case, it was a story of great tragedy that brought him to the centre. He had worked for the Portuguese Embassy for a long time. But financial difficulties meant he was unable to build the house of his dreams – the one where he hoped to spend his old age. When the time came for him to retire, he had to leave his house to move in with his daughter. One night while they were at home, an enormous fire broke out. Manuel lost everything, including his precious daughter. Distraught and completely lost, he found support and comfort in the Red Cross centre after being approached by a volunteer in his community who had noticed his distress. "Today, thanks to the centre, I feel better and I’m getting back to life. I have the support of a doctor, a roof over my head, a meal every day and friends to talk to.” Manuel Resident The centre has evolved a lot during the past 20 years. "The initial project was to provide a home and basic assistance for older people who had been rejected by their families. But over time, we transformed it into a properwelcome centrewhere we take care of more complex needs of our residents,” says Filippa Fernandes, volunteer and director of the centre. "We strive to provide them with an environment where they can flourish by taking care of their physical and mental health," she added. Friendship and conversation are an important part of supporting the mental health of older people in the community. So the São Tomé and Príncipe Red Cross also runs a social centre nearby which opens its doors every day, letting all older people in the community come and socialize with one another. Together, all visitors can spend the day in a safe and peaceful place where they have access to basic amenities, such as food and washrooms. Ronaldo, is one of the seven volunteers who work to keep the social centre active. As manager and cook, he manages the day-to-day business inside the centre, but also heads out into the community to deliver meals to people with limited mobility. "We try to do our best to make sure that no one is left behind.” Ronaldo Red Cross volunteer Too often in societies around the world, older people are underserved, cast aside or viewed as a burdenon a country's resources. But thanks to the kindness of Red Cross volunteers like Ronaldo and Filippa, older people in their community are being treated with the dignity, respect and care that they deserve. -- The welcomecentre for the elderly receives funding from local churches and associations, as well as members of the diaspora. The social centre was initially set up with funding from the joint IFRC and ICRC Empress Shôken Fund. In 2022, the IFRC provided water, sanitation and hygiene kits to all residents. If you are a donor and are interested in learning more and supporting the IFRC’s work in São Tomé and Príncipe, please read our IFRC network country plan here which includes contact details for our cluster office in the region. You can also click here to learn more about the IFRC’s work supporting healthy ageing.