Amidst a concerning surge in measles cases, the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan (RCSK), in collaboration with the IFRC, has launched an immunization campaign to combat what has become a significant threat to many communities in Kyrgyzstan.
As of early September, Kyrgyzstan has reported a staggering 1,982 confirmed cases, making measles a major threat to communities in the Kyrgyz Republic and one of the highest measles incidences globally.
A highly contagious disease, and a leading cause of child mortality worldwide, measles is almost completely preventable with vaccination. The first major challenge in tackling the outbreak lies in dispelling misinformation about the disease and vaccinations.
“Tackling measles and other communicable diseases begins and ends in communities,” says Chingiz Djakipov, president of the RCSK, adding that communities play a pivotal role in addressing diseases like measles. ”Something as simple as a vaccine can help prevent many unavoidable deaths and illnesses. But we have a far way to go to tackle vaccine hesitancy in the country,”.
Additionally, the National Society and the IFRC have deployed trained volunteers and staff country-wide to support the government’s national immunization campaign. Their mission includes raising awareness about measles and rubella prevention, dispelling misinformation, alleviating fears, addressing questions, and facilitating access to vaccination points and health services.
As an additional help, IFRC’s Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF) allocated 139,000 Swiss francs to bolster the RCSK’s efforts in curbing the outbreak. Over the coming months, the Red Crescent Society aims to reach 70,000 individuals across the most affected regions and cities, including the cities of Osh and Bishkek cities, and the Osh and Chui regions.
“Debunking misinformation about the disease and vaccinations is the first major hurdle to tackling this next outbreak,” says Seval Guzelkilinc, head of IFRC’s Central Asia Country Cluster Delegation. “For many years, the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan has played a fundamental role in responding to health-related emergencies across the country and it is seen as a reliable and trusted source of information for communities.”
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.
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.
By Baktiar Mambetov, IFRC
Zamira, Larisa, Aizada and Nazira were struggling to provide for their loved ones. Widowed, in difficult economic situations, taking care of disabled family members or many children by themselves, they couldn’t make ends meet. But a Kyrgyzstan Red Crescent sewing course changed that.
“The opportunity to learn tailoring became a ray of hope for me. It’s useful for us, and I don’t feel lonely or depressed any more as I’m part of a good team. We help each other,” said Zamira Zhumagulova.
She is one of about 300 vulnerable women who have been trained and employed through the Skills Development Project of the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan this year, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). She was going through difficult times after being laid off from her job as a taxi dispatcher, but is now working regularly.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought along wide-ranging socio-economic impacts in Kyrgyzstan, like in other countries around the world. Many people have been pushed into poverty after getting unemployed, and face challenges to cover their basic needs.
Thanks to the IFRC COVID-19 emergency appeal, the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan expanded the tailoring programme had been running for nine years with support from the Italian Red Cross into a more comprehensive training and livelihood support project, and that is making a huge difference for hundreds of vulnerable women.
The initiative changed Toloshova Nazira’s life. A single mother of a disabled girl, she was at first reluctant to leave her daughter at home with relatives or friends.
“I would constantly call home and ask how she was doing. Over time, I got used to it and could be more involved in the learning process,” she indicated.
The courses helped unleash Nazira’s potential as a seamstress. A month after completing the training, she got a job in an atelier and was able to earn enough money to pay for a treatment and rehabilitation course for her daughter. She is also running a sewing business from home.
As well as learning sewing, attendees are provided with food and clothing, and are taught about first aid and healthy lifestyles, infectious diseases, blood donation and the importance of vaccination.
The IFRC assistance also enabled the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan to set up a garment factory so vulnerable women could receive a stable income completing orders for domestic and international clients.
Ibragimova Larisa Samarbekovna, from Talas region, is one of them. A single mother of four, she lost her husband in 2006 to a chronic illness. After participating at one of the courses of the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan, she opened a mini workshop at home with help from her eldest children, and could even hire two of her classmates, including a single mother of two who is caring for a paralysed mother, Myrzakmatova Aizada.
For the last nine months, 30 women have been working at the factory in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. They are primarily single mothers, women with large families, with special needs or disabled children, ex-TB patients or living with HIV.
“It is very encouraging to see how motivated and hard-working these trainees are. They are determined to learn and eager to work. Each one of them has a human story behind, sometimes a dramatic one. It is great that through this project, the Red Crescent Society gives vulnerable women the chance to gain new skills, generate income and support themselves and their families,” said the course trainer, Aigul Omurzakova.
With the COVID-19 pandemic far from over, the IFRC is aiming to shift from food aid and other material support to longer term endeavours that empower vulnerable people, increase their resilience, reduce their aid dependence and help them more efficiently in less acute, more protracted crisis scenarios.
By Ainhoa Larrea, IFRC
Arlen Matkasimov, a volunteer of the mobile brigade of the Kyrgyzstan Red Crescent, has been confronted with multiple life and death situations over the last months.
“Once, following an emergency call, I saw a patient with oxygen saturation 43, when it should normally be above 95. We did everything to save her life. She fought very hard, and in the end she survived. At moments like these, you realise how extreme reality can be.”
Kyrgyzstan reported its first cases of COVID-19 on 18 March 2020. The government imposed travel restrictions and curfews, shut down schools and universities, and asked people to work from home, declaring a state of emergency as infections and deaths soared.
Like in many countries around the world, the situation quickly spiraled out of control.
“It was sad to realise that our health system could not cope with such a large number of patients, and that many had to be treated at home because hospitals were full,” said Arlen. Helping people in such circumstances wasn’t easy.
“We have been doing everything in our power to get out of this pandemic horror together. But, to be honest, it has been difficult. I would not want this situation to happen in any country. People really needed support, medical services were overwhelmed.
“In winter, one day we had to go to the neighbouring region of Naryn. Our task was to deliver a seriously ill patient from there to Bishkek. It was very tough, two days without sleep,” explained Arlen.
However, he is delighted to be part of a such a critical team.
“I am proud that at such a difficult moment for the country and the whole world, I have been able to somehow help. I am happy that I have helped save people’s lives. Our patients are also someone's mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers.”
“I began to appreciate more the time spent with my family. Far from home, you miss your family a lot. You want to see everyone, but you cannot. Because you are afraid to infect them. My family considered me a hero, as if I were at the frontline and fought.”
Kyrgyzstan has registered more than 123,000 coronavirus cases and 2,000 deaths so far.
With support from the COVID-19 emergency appeal of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Kyrgyzstan Red Crescent has been carrying out wide-range of activities throughout the pandemic – from mobile brigades to vaccination services.
Mass immunisation represents a crucial challenge for the country, as less than 1 per cent of the population has been vaccinated to date: 54,000 people out of a population of more than 6.4 million.
Until more doses become available, Arlen calls for renewed attention to preventative measures.
“The virus can infect anyone, anywhere. It has not disappeared and won’t disappear soon. Do not think that it will not affect you simply because you are young and because you are not like others. Do not risk your only life and the lives of those close to you.”
Budapest/Geneva, 23 March 2021 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is urging decision-makers to ensure tuberculosis (TB) patients receive life-saving treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic, after new research showing the pandemic has set back TB detection by 12 years.
Research by the Stop TB Partnership shows that during the pandemic, the number of people detected, diagnosed with and treated for TB in the world dropped by approximately one million, falling back to 2008 levels.
In Europe and Central Asia, there was a substantial decrease (35.5 per cent) in TB case notification during the first 6 months of 2020, and a corresponding decline in treatment – a worrying decline that could lead to 5,000 additional TB deaths, according to a WHO survey of 44 European countries.
IFRC Regional Health and Care Coordinator for Europe, Dr Davron Mukhamadiev, said the WHO research was alarming, with half of European countries reallocating TB resources to COVID-19 and 60 per cent of countries having to reduce the number of TB facilities.
“Every year, 1.5 million people worldwide die of TB – almost 4,000 people a day. People with TB are three times more likely to die of COVID-19. We should be increasing TB services, not reducing them.
“There has never been a more critical time to ensure continuity of essential services for people affected by TB. If people are unable to receive uninterrupted treatment, even more lives will be lost,” Dr Mukhamadiev said.
National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have continued supporting patients with TB throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in Kyrgyzstan, the Red Crescent uses its network of nurses to deliver drugs to patients, ensure compliance with the treatment, and provide psychosocial support. In Ukraine, the Red Cross visits long-term child TB patients in hospital, and in Russia the Red Cross visits detention centres, educating detainees, including migrants, about TB prevention.
Kyrgyzstan Red Crescent uses an innovative approach of video-observed therapy for TB, allowing TB patients to take their medications remotely. And in Tajikistan, 100 Red Crescent volunteers provide food and psychosocial support to TB patients.
 Stop TB Partnership
 World Health Organisation
Europe is experiencing the fastest rise in Coronavirus infections in the world and health systems in many countries in our region are approaching breaking point. Yet worryingly, we are witnessing an alarming rise in people saying they are sick and tired of being restricted.
Worrying signs abound that people are failing to take the second wave seriously. Many countries have seen protests against new lockdown restrictions, and in Turkey, a Red Crescent survey  found that despite high levels of awareness, some people are less inclined to follow preventive measures now compared to in the early stages of the outbreak.
This pandemic fatigue is only set to worsen as people see the end in sight due to the promising vaccine news and as they’re tempted to buck restrictions of the looming long, dark winter of lockdowns.
But there are things you can do to get through this time and make yourself feel better.
Your actions now are critical and can make a real difference. Consider where we are. With almost 16 million confirmed cases, and 350,000 deaths, Europe accounts for more than half of the new cases globally.
But one of the best ways you can combat pandemic fatigue is to do something that you know is making a real difference, like volunteering for your local Red Cross or Red Crescent. Many of our European Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and branches are desperate for fresh faces and more helping hands as we adapt our work to respond to this unprecedented emergency.
The Coronavirus pandemic has seen a shift from our traditional work and a move into new areas of assistance, as we respond rapidly to the second wave hitting Europe. We’re stepping in to fill gaps in hospitals and health clinics, we are alongside health authorities as they carry out mass testing, we’re supporting the most vulnerable so they don’t fall between the cracks and we’re reaching out to those who are most isolated and alone to defeat loneliness but also to take the dog for a walk or do the shopping.
Our work during the second wave includes in Slovakia where 1,500 local Red Cross personnel are supporting a programme aiming to test the entire adult population; in the Czech Republic we’re training thousands of new volunteers to work in hospitals as hundreds of health workers become sick, French Red Cross staff and volunteers are operating mobile testing units at train stations across Paris and Kyrgystan Red Crescent volunteers are providing first aid and transport for coronavirus patients around the clock.
Many of us are just tired of the relentless nature of this pandemic and are feeling there’s nothing we can do to end it. But there is a lot one person can do. You can play your part by staying the course. Practise social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands, avoid crowds.
The sorts of thing you might be doing include working on telephone support lines, being part of a team preparing and delivering food, cash and other aid, supporting a mobile testing site or being a friendly face and a listening ear for someone who might not have any other human contact that day.
I can tell you these things are making a difference. In fact, our volunteers tell us that they get back as much as they give.
I urge you to join us. We need you, and you just might find that you need us.
By Anette Selmer-Andresen, IFRC
Challenging situations can also mean a fresh start. For 28-year-old Genghis Khan from Kyrgyzstan the COVID-19 pandemic changed his whole life.
“The crisis forced me out of my comfort zone and gave me a chance to change. I am grateful for such an opportunity, because my life will never be the same,” says Genghis Khan, now an avid Red Crescent volunteer.
Living a Groundhog Day
“Before the pandemic, each day of my life was like the other. You could say that I lived a Groundhog Day for the last five years,” he explains.
Genghis was working as a banker, but was not happy with his life. “Many times, I promised myself that I would change my life. I thought that I would only work for another year, and then look for a new job. But time flew by and before I knew it, I had been a bank employee for five years.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government of Kyrgyzstan declared a state of emergency at the end of March. All office workers needed to work remotely and Genghis was isolated at home.
“Honestly, in the beginning I was lost,” he says. “What should I do with all this free time?”
One day, while browsing the internet, he came across an ad by the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan. They were looking for volunteers to help with COVID-19 preventive activities.
“I’d never done anything like that before and I didn't understand why volunteering was necessary.” Still, Genghis decided to give it a try.
As soon as he began volunteering, Genghis was impressed by the atmosphere of solidarity among the volunteers.
“It felt almost like we were a family. I was impressed by the courage of the volunteers. They gave their time and put their health in danger to help those in need.”
A life-changing experience
Volunteering for the Red Crescent has been an eye-opener for Genghis. He realized that there are vulnerable people in his community who need help.
“To be honest, being able to help old and lonely people or single mothers with many children, brought tears to my eyes,” he admits.
Through volunteering, Genghis has learned some important life lessons and feels that he has changed as a person.
“My life will not be the same again. Before I was in some way selfish and cared only about myself. Now everything is different, I realized how important it is to help others. I love this organization with all my heart.”
Almaty/Geneva, 4 October 2019– UNICEF’s Europe and Central Asia Regional Office (ECARO) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) today announced the start of a joint programme, “Strengthening Local and National Capacities for Emergency Preparedness and Response in High Earthquake Risk Countries of Central Asia.”
Supported by USAID and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), the programme will assist populations at risk of a major earthquake and other disasters in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The results of the joint programme will contribute to the broader UNICEF-IFRC Initiative for Emergency Early Action and Resilience Building in Central Asia.
UNICEF said that strengthening the capacities of frontline responders was a critical factor in delivering early action for children and communities during an emergency, including a major earthquake. “This partnership is particularly important when considering that earthquakes become disasters when we are not prepared,” said Philippe Cori, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia. The collaboration with IFRC/Red Crescent Societies would contribute to building the resilience of children and their families in Central Asia, the agency added.
Central Asia is prone to earthquakes, floods, mudslides, avalanches, droughts and extreme temperatures, all of which can cause loss of life, displacement, family separation, trauma, disruption of education, healthcare, food insecurity, and poverty. An estimated 99.9% of children in Kyrgyzstan and 88.3% in Tajikistan live in areas of high to very high seismic risk. Major urban areas in the region are particularly vulnerable due to high population density and continuing concerns over the seismic safety of buildings and infrastructure.
Having national disaster management systems not fully adapted to address children’s vulnerabilities and needs, low capacity of national systems to withstand the disasters, limited nature of cross-sectoral implementation of the disaster risk reduction and mitigation measures, limited DRR knowledge and systematic training, make children more vulnerable to shocks and stresses.
Bayarmaa Luntan, Head of the IFRC office for Central Asia, said, “All communities in Central Asia are at risk from disasters that can strike at any time. Helping people to be ready and better able to tackle them is the best way to save lives and reduces losses. That is why this programme is so important.”
As part of the activities planned in the project, a sub-regional training for emergency supply and logistics experts will take place in Almaty in November. Staff from National Red Crescent societies, UNICEF Country Offices, and national and local governments will be trained on clear actions, roles and accountabilities in responding to a major earthquake in Central Asia.