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.
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.
| 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]
Mrinalini Santhanam: +41763815006
In Kaula Lumpur:
Afrhill Rances: +60192713641
Peter (Piwi) Ophoff: +923088888053
Syed Muhammad Abubakar: +92 300 8866 886
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Myanmar: IFRC Regional Director reiterates need for principled humanitarian assistance
The IFRC Regional Director for Asia Pacific, Alexander Matheou, visited Myanmar from 23 to 29 April 2023.
The purpose of the visit was to meet the new leadership of the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) and to discuss with them the importance of applying the Red Cross’ Fundamental Principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence to provide principled humanitarian assistance in a complex emergency.
To this end, Mr. Matheou also met State Administration Council ministries, including the Minister of Health, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Cooperation. The Regional Director highlighted the special auxiliary role of MRCS in the provision of humanitarian services in Myanmar, and the importance of respecting its independence and neutrality as it delivers assistance in response to natural disasters, in health crises, and in situations of conflict.
Noting the role of the IFRC to support and strengthen the actions and institutional capacity of the MRCS, the Regional Director also called for facilitation of humanitarian assistance, especially in areas that are hardest to reach. He confirmed IFRC’s commitment to supporting the MRCS to respond to humanitarian needs, aligned with the Red Cross’ Fundamental Principles.
Mr. Matheou said: “Over 17 million people need humanitarian assistance in Myanmar. It is one of the largest and most complex humanitarian crises in the world. No single organization can reach everyone in need or reach all parts of the country affected by the crisis. Like other organizations, we have our limitations. However, Myanmar Red Cross is the country’s largest humanitarian organization, and it has a key role to play in communities across the country, through its local branches and its trained volunteers."
"Our job as IFRC is to assist Myanmar Red Cross to fulfil that role in a principled way, to the benefit of as many people as possible in Myanmar, in response to both natural and manmade disasters, and strengthen its role as a local community actor.”
With a nationwide network, Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) is the country’s largest humanitarian organization delivering humanitarian assistance across the country. The MRCS, supported by the IFRC network, provides services in disaster management and risk reduction, health and care, mental health and psychosocial support, water and sanitation, restoring family links, and first aid and safety services, amongst others.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the MRCS assisted millions of people through risk awareness messaging, vaccination support, quarantine support and distribution of protective items, as well as providing oxygen to dozens of thousands of people in need, along with cash assistance to support socio-economic recovery of affected households. In the past two years since the military intervention, the MRCS has assisted hundreds of thousands of people across the country, in hard to access areas such as Chin, Magway, Sagaing, Kayah and Kayin, as well as Shan State and Yangon, through food assistance, cash distributions, medical assistance and non-food items such as hygiene kits, dignity kits, water filters, amongst others. The MRCS works as an auxiliary to public authorities in the humanitarian field, like all 192 National Societies of the Red Cross or Red Crescent around the world.
In Kuala Lumpur: Afrhill Rances, Regional Communications Manager, [email protected], +60 19 271 3641
Cholera is back but the world is looking away
This article was originally published on the BMJ website here.
Once thought to be close to eradication, cholera is back—dehydrating and killing people within hours and ravaging communities across six continents. Despite the alarming numbers of cases and deaths over the past year, decision makers are averting their eyes, leaving people to die from a preventable and treatable disease.
The healthcare community should sound the alarm for immediate actions. A strong and global emergency response is urgently needed, but it is only a first step. More than ever the world must invest in water and sanitation systems and prepare communities before outbreaks occur.
Over the past 200 years, there have been seven cholera pandemics, and today’s surge is the largest in a decade. In 2022, 30 countries reported cholera outbreaks, including places that had been free of the disease for decades. In Haiti, where millions of people have been displaced by violence, cholera has killed hundreds of people in just a few months.Lebanon is experiencing its first outbreak since 1993, with more than 6000 recorded cases.After devastating floods, Nigeria had a major cholera outbreak.In Malawi, the worst outbreak in decades has left 620 people dead since March.Schools are now closed in an attempt to stop the surge of infections.
The risk of cholera transmission multiplies when people live in poor or overcrowded conditions and lack access to safe water, proper sanitation, and hygiene facilities. A diarrhoeal disease caused by theVibrio choleraebacteria, cholera is commonly spread through contaminated food or water. Left untreated, it can cause severe dehydration and be deadly within hours.
Almost half of the world's population—approximately 3.6 billion people—live without safely managed sanitation in their home, leaving them vulnerable to cholera outbreaks. The World Health Organization reports that at least two billion people consume water from sources contaminated with faeces.
The root causes behind the spate of recent cholera outbreaks are, however, complex and multifaceted. Overlapping humanitarian crises around the world, such as migration, conflicts, poverty, and social injustice are forcing people to live in unsanitary conditions, and this is fuelling the spread of this infectious disease. In the aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic, the number of people living in extreme poverty increased for the first time in a generation. And now, rising inflation and the repercussions of the conflict in Ukraine could worsen an already dire situation.
Climate change plays a part in contributing to the spread of cholera. More frequent and intense extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and floods, have resulted in major disruption to water treatment processes and damaged sanitary infrastructure in many parts of the world. The combination of higher temperatures and extreme precipitation leads to a higher incidence of waterborne infections like cholera.
Factors such as food insecurity also exacerbate the vulnerability of communities to the spread of cholera. Malnourishment weakens the immune system, increasing a person’s risk of severe symptoms and death. As global events drive up food prices, the number of malnourished people has also risen. An estimated 140 million people in Africa face severe food insecurity.
Cholera can be treated through a simple method called oral rehydration treatment, but many people cannot access this lifesaving tool—an estimated 56% of children with diarrhoea are not able to receive this treatment. Cholera can also be prevented through the oral cholera vaccine, but supply cannot meet current needs. By the end of 2022, 11 countries experiencing cholera outbreaks had requested 61 million doses of the vaccine—far more than the 36 million doses that were expected to be produced. The shortage of vaccines has recently forced the International Coordinating Group, of which the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is a part, to switch from a two dose to a single dose strategy so that coverage can be expanded.
In places such as Malawi and Haiti, the mortality rate from cholera tripled in 2022. Nobody should die from a preventable and treatable disease. This level of suffering is morally unacceptable.
The IFRC has launched a time sensitive emergency response in 20 countries, where trained Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers track transmission routes while also ensuring that sanitation facilities are working and that safe water supplies are available. At the community level, teams treat people by administering oral rehydration treatment and referring those most severely affected to hospital. In Malawi, where the number of infections is increasing daily, the Red Cross has established 14 oral rehydration points across the country and is reaching more than 753 000 people with health and hygiene campaigns.
Volunteers also play a major part in cholera vaccination campaigns. The Lebanese Red Cross, for example, has contributed considerably to the rollout of the national cholera vaccination campaign. Through door-to-door visits of households, institutions, and organisations, the Lebanese Red Cross vaccinated more than 260 000 people in only 39 days across 151 municipalities.
In countries where cholera is endemic, we are implementing sustainable long term water systems, sanitation, and hygiene programmes. For instance, in the countries where we are operating, we built and rehabilitated 1300 water systems, more than 7000 sanitation facilities in households, schools, and health centres, and close to 6000 handwashing stations, improving the lives of more than three million people around the world.
Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers are on the frontlines of this public health emergency, but we are not able to do this alone. The resurgence of cholera around the world despite decades of eradication efforts suggest that cholera control, prevention, and response mechanisms must be rapidly amplified.
To prevent outbreaks, reduce transmission, and save lives, we need political commitment and greater financial resources. We must ensure access to safe water supplies and invest in proper sanitation infrastructure in the communities most at risk. We need to increase the production and distribution of oral cholera vaccines. Public health systems and cholera treatment centres must be better funded. Lastly, we need to build trust in communities. People are less likely to follow preventive measures if they do not trust their community leaders and health systems.
But to really put an end to cholera, we cannot forget the humanitarian crises at root level. Governments, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector must finally mobilise and increase investments in infrastructure and health and social systems so that they can withstand the fallout from disasters, conflicts, and climate change.
One of the most important lessons we learnt from the covid-19 pandemic is that no one is safe until everyone is safe. It is in everyone’s best interests to work together and ensure that no one is left behind.
Visit our water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) page for more information about cholera.
And follow Petra on Twitter for more updates on the IFRC's work in health and care: @petra_khoury
IFRC Secretary General on the year ahead: "Hope in the midst of hopelessness"
It’s easy to feel a sense of hopelessness these days – climate crises, people on the verge of starvation in parts of Africa, multiple wars, protracted conflicts, people having to leave their homes out of desperation, shameful cases of exclusion in many parts of the world, rising mental health crises, people not having basic access to water and sanitation. This list can go on and on.
While these crises are affecting everyone, the marginalized, excluded, and last mile communities are bearing the brunt of these crises disproportionately.
Some 43 years ago, I signed up to be a young volunteer of the Nepal Red Cross. I joined not knowing how my life would unfold and where this would lead. I didn’t fully understand then, but I do now – the mission and mandate of our IFRC network, and the fundamental principles that guide our work with a very simple vision--to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
Three years ago, we didn’t know the scale of impact of a global pandemic, international armed conflict in the middle of Europe and all other global crises we have been responding to.
In this context, let me share some of my reflections on the current state of play.
Reflection on the IFRC’s mandate and relevance
As the world grapples with “polycrisis”, our mandate becomes as relevant as ever, if not more.
The IFRC is at the forefront of humanitarian efforts in times of disaster, crises, and other emergencies. By providing immediate assistance and long-term sustainable development programmes, the IFRC network puts people at the centre of vital, life-saving assistance.
We work to strengthen the resilience of communities in vulnerable settings, ensuring they are better prepared for and better able to cope with our changing world. In a time of great global disparities in terms of access to services, we bridge the gap.
The role of truly local organizations like our member National Societies is critical to reach the most disadvantaged sections of societies. Localization is fundamental as crises grow; but resources do not keep pace with them. Business as usual is not going to work. True empowerment of community organizations and decolonization of aid will be critical in 2023 and beyond.
Reflection on our fundamental principles, particularly the principle of neutrality
The threat to our principles, particularly the principle of neutrality, lies in the fact that the international armed conflict in Ukraine has taken on a much-heightened political dimension. This has placed great pressure on the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.
We must maintain a neutral stance and perform impartial aid operations, to ensure our principle of neutrality is observed. While we remain sensitive to the challenges emerging out of the conflict and we will be doing everything in our capacity to deliver on our mandate, it is essential that our fundamental principles remain the bedrock of our actions. Failing to do so will irreparably damage the notion of neutral, independent humanitarian action.
Amid rapid changes in the global humanitarian landscape, one thing remains constant – that’s our fundamental principles. Our values and principles transcend all the divisions that exist in the world.
Reflection on current trends
We closely monitor the global trends that impact our work. Climate and Environmental crises have been at the forefront. Social issues like the erosion of trust, migration and displacement, inequality, global health and food crises are directly linked to our mandate. Economic issues like the cost-of-living crisis and energy crises will impact our work. Technological issues, like the opportunity created by digitalization as well as the risks arising from the digital divide and those linked to humanitarian data security, will have to be considered. We must also be mindful of the global political landscape and current lack of global political leadership able to deal with multiple crises.
The international armed conflict in Ukraine will significantly impact the geopolitical landscape and will exacerbate the humanitarian situation across the globe. We must be humble enough to acknowledge that there is no humanitarian solution to most of these crises. There must be a political solution and we must support and advocate for the same.
Reflection on our ambitions
Our ambitions are simple as we deal with these trends.
We will continue to be bold in our support to our membership both on humanitarian action and in building resilience.
We will work harder to build a trustful relationship with our membership and governance structure.
We will invest more in National Society transformations leveraging the power of youth and volunteers. Advancing gender and inclusion will require consistent push.
We must do more to be a learning organization that continuously evolves. Within the family, we will continue to build mutually respectful movement cooperation.
We will expand our humanitarian diplomacy efforts and further strengthen our highly professional partnership with all partners. Further building on the new operating model and new resourcing architecture, we will develop more inclusive IFRC wide approaches.
We will accelerate our digitalization journey.
We will continue to strengthen agility and accountability. Respectful workplace, issues of fraud and corruption, sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, racism, and discrimination will be dealt with proactively and decisively.
The world is full of daunting challenges. But it is also full of people and organizations committed to confront them and work together to bring about positive change. We are one of those organizations.
We will lead from the front, working with our membership and their volunteers. We will be bold in our actions, but calm and composed in our approaches.
There will of course be challenges along the way, but we will always move forward with integrity. We will have to be at our best when the challenges are the greatest. And we will have to always bring hope amid hopelessness.
Pakistan floods: Six months on, humanitarian needs remain dire
It’s been almost six months since flash floods battered parts of Pakistan, and hundreds of thousands of people are still reeling from the floods’ effects.
Homes, livelihoods, and farmlands were destroyed and many parts of the country remain underwater. An estimated 33 million people have been affected, of which 20 million are still living in dire conditions. And now that the country has entered winter, many affected communities face a daunting new challenge of how to survive without housing, food, clean water, and fuel sources for warmth.
The Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS), with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has been providing lifesaving relief to flood-affected families, especially those in far-flung areas, reaching nearly 600,000 people so far.
The PRCS swung into action when the floods struck, delivering cooked food and food parcels to address hunger, which killed some due to starvation. Their volunteers also quickly distributed essential items such as collapsible jerry cans for storing clean water, kitchen sets and hygiene kits.
Shelter continues to be a top priority in our response. Many people were forced to leave their flooded homes and retreat to the nearest evacuation centre. Some resorted to sleeping on the roadside – unprotected and with barely any resources to build a roof over their heads. PRCS, with the support of IFRC and our partners, has been distributing tents, shelter tool kits, tarpaulins, blankets and mosquito nets in different affected regions to cater to people’s immediate shelter needs.
In the areas where floods are receding, health and hygiene concerns including cholera, dengue, and malaria, pose severe threats to people's well-being. Many areas also have been reporting cases of scabies, especially in children as they play in the floodwaters.
Before the floods, poor sanitation and bad hygiene were already a concern in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh provinces. The floods and waterlogging have only worsened the overall health situation. In response, the IFRC has helped the PRCS to strengthen its health and hygiene services. For instance, volunteers are now running mobile health units in the most affected areas to provide urgent medical attention, especially for women and children.
“The mobile health units have been extremely beneficial for me and this community,” says Jamila, a mother of four from Sindh province who’s expecting her fifth child.
Both adults and children in the village where Jamila lives, Dayee Ji Wandh, have been receiving medical assistance and medication for their issues. It’s been easy for Jamila and other pregnant women to reach out and get advice for common health issues, such as fever and diarrhea.
Hear more from Jamila in this video:
“Through the mobile health units, people have been bringing their sick children for treatment whenever necessary,” said Sabira Solangi, a Pakistan Red Crescent volunteer from the same area.
Contaminated water is another big issue, especially in Sindh where the quality of water in the entire region is exceptionally poor. The few handpumps that existed to offer clean water were severely damaged during the floods. The IFRC’s water, sanitation, and hygiene team have been working around the clock to provide clean drinking water. They also carried out extensive assessments to map out the right places to install new handpumps and dig boreholes. The IFRC also supported the Pakistan Red Crescent Society to install mobile water treatment plants and latrines in different districts to aid those in need of clean water.
“We really appreciate what the Red Crescent has set up here, especially with the drinking water. It’s a basic need for all, and it was such a great relief when the treatment plants were installed,” says Maula Bakhsh Khakrani, a 20-year-old man from Jacobabad in Sindh province.
Speaking about the ongoing situation in the country, Pakistan Red Crescent Society Chairman, Shahid Ahmed Laghari, said: “massive needs require massive support. Pakistan Red Crescent Society requests all potential donors to support early recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction efforts for the flood-affected population.”
Click here to learn more about the IFRC’s Emergency Appeal for the floods in Pakistan.
And click here to donate to our ongoing response.
Universal Health Coverage: IFRC Secretary General addresses the Third Annual Ministerial Meeting of the Group of Friends of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and Global Health
It is an honour to co-host today’s event as part of the Group of Friends on Universal Health Coverage and speak on behalf of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, comprising 192 National Societies and millions of staff and volunteers.
Universal Health Coverage, which embodies the right of all people to quality, accessible, affordable, and available health services, reverberates deeply with the IFRC’s core mission to act in the interest of the most vulnerable and alleviate human suffering.
Since 2018, we have been scaling up our work on UHC and aligning ourselves with the WHO’s programme of work. As a member of UHC2030, we supported Country Focus Groups before and after the 2019 High Level Meeting to share lived experiences, challenges and achievements in UHC from populations often left behind.
This year, the IFRC conducted country consultations across the world with communities and civil society groups to identify barriers to accessing basic health services and to provide key inputs to the State of UHC Commitment report.
Despite all progress, we’re witnessing that many vulnerable groups and marginalized populations lack access to lifesaving health services.
One year from today, the High-Level Meeting on UHC must serve as a juncture for making the political commitments to strengthen health systems for future generations.
First, we must prioritize the health needs of the most vulnerable, especially in situations of disasters, climate crisis, health emergencies and violence. Governments must tackle stigma and discrimination and build trust by integrating vulnerable communities into policy making itself. Women and girls have reported greater difficulties in accessing healthcare, and people on the move are often completely left out of national health schemes.
Second, we must invest in ensuring safety and protection of community health workers and volunteers, including our Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers, who have a deep understanding of the risks, vulnerabilities and inequalities that affect the health status of their communities and represent a key resource by working with the formal health system to deliver services. The role of community first responders in ensuring improved and timely coverage of essential health services became even more obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Third, governments should develop community health strategies through improved collaboration between public health services, communities, and civil society organizations. More investment is needed in scaling up risk communication and community engagement as a key component of people-centred health systems. We strongly believe in empowering communities and ensuring their meaningful engagement in decision making.
Our National Societies, as neutral and impartial actors, can translate the needs of communities into policy, social protection systems, infrastructure, laws and governance issues. Health systems should also be backed by better public health emergency laws that enable systematic responses to pandemics and health emergencies – we have just launched a guidance on public health emergency law to support this.
Lastly, and importantly, there is no health without mental health, especially in crisis situations. Health system strengthening means integrating and resourcing mental health and psychosocial support services for all who may need them.
Excellencies, colleagues, access to health services is not a privilege and should not be treated as such.
We cannot afford to lose the opportunity of next year’s High-Level Meeting and cannot waiver: achieving Universal Health Coverage is the only way forward.
We are committed to continuing work with governments and other partners to implement our shared commitments to UHC and stronger health systems for everyone, everywhere.
Building Trust programme
Building Trust during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Humanitarian Settings is our global programme supporting Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to build trust in public health responses and in the work of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
| Press release
Ebola in Uganda: Red Cross and community members fight the virus’s spread
Nairobi/Kampala/Geneva, 13 October 2022 – Uganda is currently facing an outbreak of the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD). The first case of the EVD was reported on 20th September 2022 and the Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) immediately activated an Ebola Preparedness and response program to fight the spread.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an Emergency Appeal to scale up these activities—targeting 2.7 million people.
Robert Kwesiga, Uganda Red Cross Secretary General, said:
“We have trained our volunteers to conduct safe and dignified burials and carry out health promotion activities. We are engaging communities directly with information about Ebola symptoms and how to prevent further risk, including early detection of new cases”.
The last Ebola outbreak in Uganda was in 2020, when more than ten districts experienced the virus’s wrath, particularly areas neighbouring the country’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Regular cross-border communications, information sharing, and support helps mitigate risk and enables Red Cross and Red Crescent teams in neighbouring countries to conduct effective readiness activities and scale up their responses, if necessary.
Papa Moussa Tall, IFRC Head of Delegation for Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan said:
“The Ebola virus is devastating for families, but I am relieved that we are able to offer experienced teams and lessons learned from past outbreaks to help. The IFRC—through our Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF)—has activated resources to support the Uganda Red Cross to quickly respond and save lives”.
The IFRC urgently seeks CHF 10 million to address gaps and procure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for URCS staff and volunteers, who are at the forefront of the Ebola response. IFRC’s appeal will help address these and other needs, such as building the URCS team’s capacity to manage safe and dignified burials.
Tall added: “The Red Cross has deployed ambulances to the most affected districts to support quick evacuation of probable cases to the nearest Ebola treatment centres”.
The Uganda Red Cross has more than 500,000 volunteers and members spread across 51 branches and over 300 staff members including a skilled health department with health experts in areas directly linked to the epidemic response. The IFRC’s Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3) is currently being implemented, with focus on community epidemic and pandemic preparedness. The Uganda Red Cross is part of the task force that leads the response efforts as the country puts up a fight against the epidemic.
For more information, please contact:
In Kampala: Irene Nakasiita, +256 755000695 / 774382583, [email protected]
In Nairobi: Rita Nyaga, +254 110 837154, [email protected]
In Geneva: Jenelle Eli, +1-202-603-6803, [email protected]
Ukraine crisis: Red Cross health centre in Uzhhorod offers relief and comfort
Like many cities in the western part of Ukraine, the health system in Uzhhorod has been overwhelmed. Located near the border with Hungary and Slovakia, the city’s population has increased dramatically with tens of thousands of people seeking refuge.
To help meet the growing medical needs of the new arrivals and relieve some of the pressure on local medical facilities, the Ukrainian Red Cross opened a temporary Health Centre in Uzhhorod with the support of IFRC and the Finnish Red Cross.
The centre offers consultation, treatment and medication free of charge for people in need. It’s open to everyone, local community members and internally displaced people alike.
Medical specialists are assisting people of all ages with their health issues. There’s an on-site pharmacist prescribing medications and a psychologist available for consultation and psychosocial support.
"Medications for the heart and blood pressure are the ones prescribed most often. People lived through stressful situations, and it affects their health,” explains pharmacist Olesya Verbovska, who works there with her twin sister Oksana.
"People had to leave their homes in a hurry, so they couldn’t bring their regular medication with them. They’re grateful that the Red Cross provides medicine free of charge.”
Many patients come from temporary shelters. One of them is 72-year-old Oleksandr Ivanovich from Luhansk who’s staying at the local school. He came to the Health Centre for a blood test and ultrasound.
"The only thing I can say is thank you – I’m grateful to everyone who cares for us.”
17-year-old Daryna from Donetsk visited the Red Cross Health Centre with her mother, grandparents and younger brother. Her family members are experiencing many health problems, including allergies and stomach pains. They heard about the health centre from other displaced people in town.
"It’s great to have a hospital like this that helps people like us,” Daryna said.
Some of the doctors and volunteers working at the Health Centre have also been affected by the conflict, like Dr. Nataliia Vasylivna, a family doctor from Donetsk.
"When patients are withdrawn, I tell them that I’m a displaced person just like them. This helps them relax and connect with me. After that, they speak more openly about their problems,” she said.
She’s seeing between 15 to 20 patients a day. Some of the most common conditions she is treating are heart diseases, high blood pressure and allergic reactions.
"Many patients are also showing signs of chronic stress and start crying as soon as they feel the sympathy from me,” she adds.
The health centre also provides psychosocial support six days a week, for adults and children alike. And two volunteers who are doing that can also relate to what patients are experiencing.
Daria from Odesa and Ostap from Kyiv both came to Uzhhorod fleeing from the conflict, and started volunteering for the Red Cross there. While helping people deal with their challenges, they got to know each other and have been a couple since May.
"We are never bored when we volunteer together. Working with kids can be difficult sometimes, but Ostap is always there to help me,” Daria said.
"Daria is an extraordinary person, I have never met anyone like her. We both have a strong urge to help others, and it’s much easier to do with someone you love,” said Ostap.
| Press release
COVID-19: Red Cross Red Crescent turns to animation to boost global vaccine effort
The animation is in the form of a nature documentary that examines how humanity is coping with the global pandemic and why vaccines are key to controlling COVID-19.
“Until the majority of humans are vaccinated, the virus will continue to spread and mutate, creating new variants that could evade the vaccine altogether,” a resonating voice reminiscent of David Attenborough explains in the 90-second animation. “The humans only hope is to share the vaccine amongst themselves.”
New analysis by the IFRC reveals that nearly one billion people in Asia and the Pacific are yet to receive a single dose of COVID -19 vaccine. Globally, less than 20 percent of the population have received a single dose in low-income countries, according to Oxford University’s ‘Our World in Data’.
John Fleming, IFRC’s Asia Pacific Head of Health, said:
“The COVID vaccine has saved millions of lives but too many people are still living in danger.If we want to end this pandemic once and for all, we need to urgently address hesitancy in every country, strengthen local delivery to get doses into arms and transfer vaccine and anti-viral drugs technology to manufacturers in low-income nations."
“There has been remarkable cooperation between countries around the world, but this pandemic is not over, and much greater action is needed by leaders in richer countries and pharmaceutical companies to enable equal access to vaccines for people everywhere.”
The animation video underlines the need to distribute vaccines among poorer nations with utmost urgency.
The video can be downloaded here.
The IFRC is asking people to just click on ‘share this video’ until it reaches policy makers, pharmaceutical companies, and government authorities.
Its message is simple – people all around the world can take action to vaccinate everyone in all corners of the globe by calling upon their governments to help. Help is needed to ensure supply of vaccines to low-income nations as well as to get those vaccines from the tarmac into the arms of people. The quicker we do this, the safer everyone will be.
For more information or to arrange an interview, contact:
In Bangkok: Preeti Abraham, +66 61 412 3910, [email protected]
In Kuala Lumpur: Rachel Punitha, +60 19 791 3830, [email protected]
| Press release
COVID-19: Nearly 1 billion still without any vaccination in Asia Pacific
Globally, less than 20 percent of the population have received a single dose in low-income countries, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data.
The IFRC is calling for all governments and pharmaceutical companies to act now to achieve greater vaccine equity.
John Fleming, IFRC’s Asia Pacific Head of Health, said:
“The COVID vaccine has been one of the most remarkable feats of modern science and it is saving millions of lives but too many people are still living in danger.
“It is critical for humanity and for economies that people have access to COVID-19 vaccines in all countries. Vaccine equity is the key to winning the race against new variants.”
“We urge richer nations to urgently step up and enable equitable access to lifesaving COVID vaccines for everyone in lower income countries.”
“Unless we prioritise protection of the most vulnerable in every country, the administration of multiple booster doses in richer countries is like applying a bandaid to a festering wound.”
Globally, slightly over 5 million COVID-19 doses are now administered every day. While some high-income countries including Canada and Australia have purchased around 10 COVID vaccine doses per person, others such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Myanmar have purchased less than two vaccinations per person, according to Duke University’s Launch and Scale Speedometer.
More than 6 million deaths are recorded globally, however the World Health Organization estimates that 14.9 million lives have been lost due to the pandemic. COVID infections are rising in almost 70 countries in all regions according to the WHO.
“If we want to end this pandemic once and for all, we need to urgently address hesitancy in every country, strengthen local delivery to get doses into arms and transfer vaccine and anti-viral drugs technology to manufacturers in low-income nations,” said Mr Fleming.
“There has been remarkable cooperation between countries around the world but this pandemic is not over and much greater action is needed by leaders in richer countries and pharmaceutical companies to enable equal access to vaccines for people everywhere.”
Coinciding with the IFRC calls for greater action on vaccine equity, a new animation video has been released highlighting the urgent need to get vaccines to everyone in all corners of every country. The video can be viewed and downloaded here.
Globally, Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies have supported more than 400 million people to access COVID-19 vaccines. The network continues to deliver vaccines, tests and treatments to the most vulnerable and is helping to rebuild stronger health systems.
For more information or to arrange an interview, contact:
In Bangkok: Preeti Abraham, +66 61 412 3910, [email protected]
In Kuala Lumpur: Rachel Punitha, +60 19 791 3830, [email protected]
| Press release
Preventing a second crisis: Health needs extend beyond Ukraine’s borders warns IFRC
Budapest, 9 June 2022 – A crisis is emerging in the shadow of conflict across Ukraine: one that extends beyond the country’s borders. Ukraine’s already stressed healthcare system is buckling under the weight of expectation and medical needs as people continue fleeing conflict areas seeking safety. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is working around the clock to address needs far greater than what’s visible to the eye.
“We know it’s possible to prevent a secondary crisis, but no one organization or entity can do it alone,” said Xavier Castellanos Mosquera, IFRC Under Secretary General.
More than 290 health care facilities and counting across Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed during the conflict according to the World Health Organization (WHO). More than 1.4 million people are without running water across eastern Ukraine, while UNOCHA reports an additional 4.6 million people in the country at risk for losing access to running water -- a growing risk of water-borne diseases such as acute watery diarrhea. Lack of electricity makes it impossible for water treatment and sanitation efforts to be effective.
Health systems in immediate neighbouring countries, including Romania, Belarus, Hungary and Moldova, were already stretched prior to the conflict due to COVID-19. While each country is providing health support to an increased number of people, this can divert valuable health resources away from the people who are still recovering from impacts of COVID-19. The sheer volume of current and future health needs as the conflict continues requires additional resources.
“The lack of medical supplies, health care staff and critical infrastructure grow day by day,” said Nick Prince, IFRC Emergency Health delegate. “The millions who have migrated to the western area of Ukraine and eastern European countries are at an elevated risk of infectious diseases given the overcrowded living conditions, limited access to shelter, nutritional stress and exposure to the elements.”
On top of these factors, people on the move are forced to delay treatment for existing chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and cancer and, in the absence of vaccinations to meet safe thresholds – including for COVID-19, there is the very strong likelihood of the re-emergence of vaccine preventable diseases. Ukraine also has some of the highest burden of chronic infectious diseases in Europe, particularly HIV and Tuberculosis – a massive risk not only for displaced people themselves, but also for Ukraine’s health care system once they return.
“The Red Cross calls on governments and the international community to provide funds for inclusive access to health services and vaccines, testing and treatment, clean water and mental health and psychological support in the long-term,” said Castellanos Mosquera.
In Uzhhorod, Ukraine -- where roughly 100,000 people from conflict-torn areas have fled, doubling the city’s population -- a Red Cross health center will open this month to treat both urgent and primary care needs free of charge to all patients. It’s the first of its kind in the area. In collaboration with local authorities, the clinic aims to serve people in need for years to come. The Ukrainian Red Cross has nearly a dozen mobile health teams in the country with more on the way and is providing mental health and psychosocial support to people who have been forced to flee. In addition, food, baby supplies and hygiene items are available to anyone in need.
In Moldova, Red Cross teams are preparing to install more handwashing stations and continue to distribute hygiene kits. Access to clean water– the number one prevention mechanism for disease prevention – remains a priority. Red Cross volunteers across eastern Europe are also integrating with teams distributing emergency cash to people who have fled Ukraine to ensure they have access to critical health resources and information.
In Hungary, the Hungarian Red Cross, supported by the Spanish Red Cross has set up health posts at the border crossings to provide first aid, primary health care, mental health support and emergency relief to people arriving by train from Chop, Ukraine.
For more information or to arrange an interview, contact:
Katie Wilkes, +1 312 952 2270, [email protected]
Merlijn Stoffels, +31 65 491 8481, [email protected]
| Press release
Global COVID-19 Summit: “World leaders must step up and ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to vaccines, tests and treatments.”
Geneva, 12 May 2022 - During the second Global COVID-19 Summit co-hosted by the White House, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) Secretary General Jagan Chapagain underlined the network’s commitment to delivering COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments to the most vulnerable and building back stronger health systems.
While many countries have successfully rolled out COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, vaccine coverage remains below 10 per cent in many low-income countries including, Papua New Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti or Madagascar. Low-income countries can also not afford tests and other lifesaving tools such as antiviral drugs or oxygen supplies, leaving millions at risk of contracting the virus and suffering its deadly consequences.
Mr. Chapagain said:
“World leaders must step up and ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to vaccines, tests and treatments. This means targeting those who are most vulnerable, have the greatest needs and are the hardest to reach. This pandemic is still spreading and killing people. It is too soon to drop our guard and give up our global efforts against COVID-19.”
Since the start of the pandemic, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have supported more than 400 million people to access COVID-19 vaccination and provided mental health support to over 13 million people in 152 countries. Because they are part of the very communities they serve, their role is also critical to building trust, informing communities about public health measures and boosting vaccine uptake.
For example, across Asia and the Pacific, millions of volunteers have helped tens of millions of people get vaccinated against COVID-19. Afghanistan has one of the world’s most fragile health systems and has vaccinated only 12% of its population with two doses. The Afghan Red Crescent has been operating a 50-bed hospital dedicated to COVID-19 patients and provided food or cash to more than 165,500 people. More than 1 million people were screened through their Mobile Health Teams and clinics in 2021.
In Namibia where only 16% of the population has been fully vaccinated, the Namibia Red Cross has led a “get vaccinated – kick COVID-19 out of Namibia” road show campaign. Red Cross volunteers walk through the streets in communities around the country, carrying signs, singing songs, and leading chants about vaccination. At COVID-19 vaccination sites, Red Cross volunteers also support registration for vaccination and data entry and provide basic first aid.
During the Summit, Mr. Chapagain expressed IFRC’s support to a pandemic financing mechanism that would allow community actors to access funding to strengthen community health systems and to increase their resilience to future health threats.
Mr. Chapagain said:
“We need to prepare for the next pandemic now. The world wasn’t ready for COVID-19, but we can be for the next pandemic. We must harness the lessons, successes and failures from the response to COVID-19 and build towards a future where communities are equipped to respond to the next health crisis.”
To request an interview or for more information, please contact:
In Washington: Marie Claudet +1 202 999 8689, [email protected]
Click here to discover more examples of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' vaccination activities during COVID-19.
World Immunization Week: going the last mile to keep communities safe from COVID-19
Immunization is the foundation of healthy communities. And right now, in the continued fight against COVID-19, vaccines are one of many important tools we have to keep communities around the world safe and healthy.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is supporting COVID-19 vaccination efforts in 172 countries. And, together, our National Societies have supported more than 325 million people to access COVID-19 vaccination globally.
Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve made special efforts to reach vulnerable, marginalized and hard-to-reach communities worldwide. To go what we call the ‘last mile’—because all people, no matter who or where they are, deserve access to health services, vaccines, testing and lifesaving treatment. And because we know that no one is safe until everyone is safe.
So, what does this work actually look like? Scroll down to discover photos and examples from five different countries: Papua New Guinea, Libya, Zambia, Kyrgyzstan and Canada.
And if you like what you read, sign up to the IFRC’s immunization newsletter for a monthly round-up of immunization activities in response to COVID-19 and other diseases.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guineahas one of the lowest vaccination coverage rates in the world. The Papua New Guinea Red Cross is working closely with provincial health authorities in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, and a crucial part of this work involves building public confidence in vaccination.
Volunteers are providing accurate, reliable and trusted public health information about COVID-19 vaccination. In many cases, they work in partnership with local community groups—such as the Country Women Association in Madang province—to reach people in spaces they already feel comfortable in. By listening and responding to people’s concerns about the vaccines, they are dispelling people’s fears and encouraging more and more people to come forward for their jab.
The Libyan Red Crescent Society is partnering with the Libyan National Centre for Disease Control to support the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination—with a focus on community engagement and logistical support.
More than 600 volunteers have been going out and about in their communities to engage with local people and answer their questions about vaccines. Volunteers have been helping with vaccine registration and data entry, so people can sign up for their jabs, and several Libyan Red Crescent health clinics in the south of the country are currently being used as vaccination centres.
Zambia Red Cross Society volunteers are running a mobile COVID-19 vaccination campaign to take vaccines out to remote and hard-to-reach communities across the country. They’re working with trusted local community leaders, helping them to be advocates for COVID-19 vaccines so that their communities feel confident coming forward.
Volunteers are also working hard to continue routine immunization activities across the country so that all Zambian children are fully immunized before the age of 5.
Hundreds of Kyrgyzstan Red Crescent Society volunteers across the country have dedicated their time to supporting the Ministry of Health and Social Development’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
They set up a special COVID-19 vaccination hotline to answer the public’s questions and address rumours and misinformation about vaccines. And they’ve been deployed to vaccination centres to lead vaccine registration and data entry so people can easily schedule their appointments.
In Canada, the Canadian Red Crosshas been supporting provincial, territorial and Indigenous health authorities in vaccination efforts among remote and Indigenous communities.
For instance, in Northern Alberta, CRC’s Indigenous staff have been embedded into mobile vaccination teams to help understand and address the roots of vaccine hesitancy. They’ve been supported virtually by an Indigenous People’s Help Desk, set up to respond to the unique needs of Indigenous leadership during the pandemic.
For more information, visit our immunization page or sign up to the IFRC's monthly immunization newsletter.
The IFRC network provides strong advocacy, prevention, treatment and care services for people who use drugs. Our aim is to help National Societies better support people with drug disorders, with a focus on harm reduction and tackling stigma and social exclusion.
| Press release
Ukraine: Millions at risk as health concerns exacerbate vulnerabilities
Budapest/Geneva, 10 March 2022 – As the conflict continues in Ukraine and a cold front descends, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warns of the dire health - including the spread of COVID-19 - and mental health consequences for millions of people both inside and outside of the country.
The fighting in Ukraine has continued for two weeks and no one has been left unscathed. An estimated 18 million people – a third of the country’s population – will need humanitarian assistance, and more than 2.3 million people have fled to neighbouring countries. As the lives of millions are being upended, there is a real concern of diseases spreading, pre-existing health conditions worsening and mental health concerns increasing.
“Many of the people affected were already vulnerable before the conflict and now face an even harsher situation as they are losing their homes and their livelihoods, being forced to seek shelter wherever they can or fleeing their country in search of safety. They urgently need food, water and shelter, but also emergency medical care, protective measures and psychosocial support to avert an even greater humanitarian catastrophe,” said Birgitte Bischoff Ebbesen, IFRC Regional Director for Europe.
At the Przemyśl railway station in Poland, a woman was crying and being comforted by a volunteer from the Polish Red Cross. When asked what had happened, she answered that she had spent the whole night and day waiting for the train from Ukraine that would bring her daughter to safety. The train had finally arrived, but her daughter had not.
People fleeing conflict often experience highly distressing situations, loss and trauma, which may impact their mental health and ability to cope. Psychosocial support will be needed in the days, weeks, and months to come.
In conflict settings, public health measures to prevent diseases from spreading become extremely challenging. People are forced to shelter in crowded spaces with limited sanitary conditions or access to basic health services, which increases the risk of infectious disease outbreaks, such as tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases. The spread of COVID-19 is a particular concern as the vaccination rate in Ukraine is among the lowest in Europe with only one-third of the population having received the first dose. Ukraine also has one of the highest rates of multidrug resistant tuberculosis in the world.
Adding to what is already a desperate situation, temperatures are dropping below freezing. There is an urgent need for warm clothing and adequate shelter to shield people in temporary locations and those who are queuing at the borders from the elements, the majority of whom are women, children and older people.
“Our Red Cross and Red Crescent teams in Ukraine and neighbouring countries are doing their utmost to support anyone in need, in particular those who are most at-risk including unaccompanied minors, single parent households, older people, and people with disabilities. They have the full support of IFRC and our global network, but more funding is desperately needed as millions of lives are at stake. Even if the armed conflict was to end tomorrow, the humanitarian consequences will be felt for years to come,” said Bischoff Ebbesen.
Notes to editors
In Ukraine, Red Cross teams are providing first aid and first aid training, helping in reception centres and to transport people to safety, and distributing relief items, including warm clothes. Despite the mortal danger they themselves are under, 3,000 new local volunteers have stepped up to support their neighbours.
In Hungary, Red Cross teams are operating three health service points at the border. They are also running reception and collection centres where they are welcoming people crossing from Ukraine and distributing relief goods.
In Poland, where 60 per cent (more than a million) of people from Ukraine are fleeing, the Polish Red Cross has activated more than 20 rescue teams, including approximately 450 medics, who are providing round-the-clock health care and psychosocial support at five of the eight border points as well as in major cities.
In Moldova, volunteers and staff from Moldova Red Cross have provided support to approximately 200,000 people who have crossed over from Ukraine. They are at all border crossing points offering hot tea, warm food, diapers, and personal protective equipment including face masks and sanitizer. Volunteers are also helping at reception centres, assisting with food preparation and playing with children.
In Russia, Red Cross teams have delivered 187 tonnes of aid including clothing, hygiene kits, baby products and household items. They are providing psychosocial support, have opened a mental health support hotline and, to date, have provided 756 consultations. More than 160 calls have come in to the restoring family links hotline.
In Romania, volunteers and staff from the local Red Cross are at various border crossings distributing food items, water, basic necessities, hygiene products, and thousands of SIM cards to people in need. The Red Cross is helping local authorities in equipping reception centres with tents, bedding, food and hygiene and baby items. Volunteers are also visiting placement centres, playing with children and helping local staff to prepare food and other necessary support.
In Slovakia the Red Cross is at all three of the country’s border crossings, where teams are providing services such as warming shelters, referrals to essential services, and first aid. As people are quickly moving on from the border area, the Red Cross is quickly scaling up support along the routes. This support includes psychosocial support and providing child-friendly spaces; social services, particularly referrals for services such as education, healthcare and registration for legal status; providing first aid, health assessments, referrals to clinical care and COVID-19 testing.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
In Budapest: Kathy Mueller, [email protected], +1 226 376 4013
In Budapest: Nora Peter, [email protected], +36 70 953 7709
In Geneva: Caroline Haga, +358 50 598 0500, [email protected]
Read more about the IFRC's emergency appeal for Ukraine and impacted countries.
Photos and videos:
Ukraine - Romania - Hungary - Croatia - Poland - Slovakia - Russia - Moldova - IFRC Newsroom
Russia-Ukraine: International armed conflict
More than one year on from the escalation of international armed conflict in Ukraine, the devastation continues to affect every aspect of people's lives. Many of the millions who fled are unable to return home, and those who remain face dire conditions, with limited access to water, heat, health care and other essential services. The impacts on people's mental health, whether they are inside or outside of Ukraine, continue to grow. Through this Emergency Appeal, the IFRC continues to support the Ukrainian Red Cross and other National Societies in the region who are standing side-by-side with communities, providing crucial and long-term humanitarian aid to meet a wide range of needs.
IFRC statement at the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board 150th session
The IFRC was born in the wake of the 1918 pandemic, and epidemic preparedness and response are part of our DNA.
We have a historic opportunity to reform the global health architecture this year. Let me propose 3 lenses through which we should measure success:
First, epidemics thrive on socio-economic and geographic inequities, affecting levels of trust, access to health services and quality of surveillance - let us not ignore this and over-medicalize our discussions.
Second, it is crucial that domestic disaster laws and frameworks, including public health emergencies, go beyond IHR capacities to be truly comprehensive and inclusive.
Finally, having effective vaccines, tests and treatments available at scale is critical, but it will not ensure their uptake or availability in communities. Community engagement and health systems are key to leaving no one behind.
The IFRC and its 192 member National Societies stand ready to share their legal and health expertise and recommendations to ensure reforms are not only powerful on paper, but transformative in reality.
Click here to learn more about the IFRC's work in health and care.
| Press release
WHO and IFRC partnership aims to build regional capacity in responding to key public health challenges
19 January 2022, Cairo-Beirut – The WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari and the Regional Director of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Dr. Hossam Elsharkawi, yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding to enhance collaboration to support countries in the Middle East and North Africa respond effectively to key public health challenges.
The aims of the agreement between WHO and IFRC are to strengthen the support provided to countries in order to improve the health and well-being of populations living in emergencies and protect and improve the health of vulnerable groups through ensuring access to essential health services, in addition to strengthening country capacity to provide access to sustainable, affordable and quality health services across the life course. The agreement also aims to strengthen leadership, governance and advocacy for health.
During the virtual ceremony, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, expressed his appreciation of WHO’s valued partnership with IFRC. “With a long history of collaboration with IFRC and working together to serve humanity, I am confident that this joint agreement can serve as a roadmap for us to strengthen support to countries and enhance national efforts to address key public health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond in order to meet the urgent health needs of all people in the region. It is a true interpretation of our vision; health for all by all: a call for action and solidarity”.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Hossam Elsharkawi, IFRC’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa said, “Addressing current and future humanitarian challenges requires the strong commitment of all partners and courageous leadership that focus on locally led actions and interdependence. We are honoured to work alongside WHO and leverage our volunteer network to advance progress towards universal health coverage, strengthen emergency response and preserve the dignity of all people.”
Dr. Rana Hajjeh, Director of Programme Management at the WHO Regional Office, noted that the memorandum of understanding focused on the health challenges related to emergencies such as outbreaks, epidemics and the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic has been a game changer for all countries and demonstrated the importance of effective preparedness and response to emergencies, and it has highlighted how, we as international organizations, can provide targeted support to countries to help them build capacity and strengthen community resilience.”
Rania Ahmed, Deputy Regional Director of IFRC, noted, “Today, the WHO/IFRC agreement is reaffirming our continued commitment to work together to create change that results in a positive impact on people’s lives. Our partnership emphasizes the need to develop policies that respond to community needs and promote effective community engagement and support to shape evidence-based responses that allow results at scale.”
The collaborative partnership between WHO and IFRC aims to further build on country progress to achieve universal health coverage and enhance national health systems. It focuses on strengthening regional capacity to effectively prepare for, and respond to, emergencies. One of the top priorities for WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region is to ensure and availability of mental health and other essential health services for all people, including displaced persons and refugees.
The memorandum of understanding takes immediate effect and will be implemented with the direct involvement of all national stakeholders and WHO country offices in the region.
For more information:
Rana Sidani Cassou, IFRC MENA: +41796715751; [email protected]
Mona Yassin, WHO EMRO: +201006019284; [email protected]
We are honoured to work alongside WHO and leverage our volunteer network to advance progress towards universal health coverage, strengthen emergency response and preserve the dignity of all people, IFRC MENA Regional Director Dr. Hossam Elsharkawi said during the virtual signing ceremony.
With this distinctive partnership with IFRC , we can jointly steer the public health agenda at regional, and more importantly, at country level; working together towards achieving Universal Health Coverage, WHO Regional Director Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari said during the virtual ceremony.
| Press release
“Impulsive reactions are an affront to the global solidarity we need to successfully respond to a crisis of this scale.”
“The consensus reached among Member States this week to commit to a legal instrument that has preparedness, equity and a whole-society approach at its centre, is crucial. That the discussions this week took place in the shadow of Omicron, could not more clearly evidence the need for global collaboration to prepare and respond to pandemics.
“But broad principles agreed are not enough. When Member States next meet, they will need to drill down on exactly what is required to achieve these. We also need to keep in mind that this process is an opportunity to address the mistrust that has plagued the response, and so we urge member states to keep communities at the centre of discussions. We need to build on what has been learnt and instrumentalize an approach to global pandemics that is powerful on paper, and transformational in reality.”
Commenting on the Omicron variant discovery, Chapagain added:
“It has been an illusion to believe that speedy vaccination in some countries, while massive pockets of the world remain without access to vaccines, will bring this pandemic to an end. And instead of applauding the great science and the transparency that helped to uncover a new variant, countries punished it with impulsive reactions. This is an affront to the global solidarity we need to successfully respond to a crisis of this scale.”
For further information
In Geneva: Ann Vaessen, [email protected], +41 79 405 77 50