Deciding between Humanitarian Goals and the Coronavirus

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused uproar among the global health community.  Many countries with their different political systems are trying to battle the pandemic. The United Nations, which is known by many as the global organization of humanitarian efforts, is also dealing with a lot of conflicts.  One of them is the shortage of supplies and workers in high-crises areas. However, the travel restrictions, financial barriers, and weak health systems that other countries are experiencing make humanitarian efforts more complicated and difficult. 

Travel bans

China coronavirus: as travel ban is issued for Wuhan, many in city ...
Travelling during the epidemic. (AP, 2020)

Many countries have issued travel bans and closed borders to contain the virus. Although these intentions seem reasonable, humanitarian aid workers are now facing more challenges when travelling. The president of Medecin Sans Frontiere, Christos Christou, addressed his concern of this situation as well. The decrease of accessibility and aid due to travel bans can create a conflict between humanitarian efforts and the weakened health systems. Flight cancellations topped with other closures have made it difficult for staff to relocate. For example, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) reported that they cannot reach over 300,000 people in the Middle East due to travel restrictions. Meanwhile, staff who are travelling to Africa are facing similar situations as well.  South Africa has the most coronavirus cases in the African continent.  As a result, around 66% of their border posts are restricted.  Even in the best-case scenario if a humanitarian worker steps foot into a country, they will not be able to start their projects immediately.  Instead, they will have to be quarantined for two weeks. 


Who funds the WHO? - Business daily
Coronavirus Funding for WHO. (WHO, 2020)

Due to market crashes, business closures and a decrease in trade, many countries have faced a dire situation of not having enough financial resources.  The United Nations is no different. On top of a $29 billion plan, UN Secretary general Antonio Guterres launched another $2 billion dollar plan to fight COVID-19 in the most vulnerable countries. The money is used to fund for supplies, testing, and medical equipment. Even with the urgent call for help, humanitarians are still afraid that their goals will become overlooked.  For example, hospitals in both Venezuela and Palestine are faced with the problem of insufficient funding.  Up until now, the UN only secured supplies that will last until June.  Obtaining the right gear is difficult as every country is facing their own battles throughout the virus. 

Migrant Sites

Here's why coronavirus could be devastating for migrants | World ...
Coronavirus Pandemic in Migrant Sites. (Ashawi, 2020)

Furthermore, migrant sites are facing situations in disease containment and sanitation. For example, in Greece, migrant centres are filled beyond capacity.  Facilities and medical centres are limited, while residents often practice unsanitary measures. This problem for global organizations and humanitarianism is difficult, as it emphasizes on the need to prioritize the most needed and vulnerable.  With the restriction in travelling and humanitarian work, the solution to these problems will be tougher to solve.

What the lack of gear means for humanitarian workers

Under Pandemic Pressure, Aid Groups Struggle To Provide ...
Protecting Vulnerable Populations. (Huget, 2020).

The lack of gear has delayed the response of humanitarian projects.  Since humanitarian workers are dealing with a physically demanding environment, some are unwilling to relocate due to unprotected gear. However, the result of having an insufficient number of workers can be difficult and challenging for the organization.  Since only a couple of humanitarians are willing to work unarmed, delivering food and hygiene kits to populations will take a longer time than usual. In this case, doctors in vulnerable countries will have to choose who to save and die to provide enough care for their patients. Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations will have to choose between their focus as well. Instead of focusing on patients, they will have to focus on which situations to tackle. Some groups such as MSF have already paused some of their lifesaving programs and shifted their focus on the COVID-19 outbreak. These decisions can further impact the lives and health systems of developing countries.


Despite the challenges in global health events, there are always solutions.  For humanitarian groups, the solutions proposed are to realise the need to commit to longer-term assistant programs, increase sanitation measures, introduce more personal protective equipment for workers and reduce the number of people in high-demand areas.  By focusing on long-term goals that were planned before the outbreak, global health organizations will be able to tackle both the pandemic and domestic issues in the countries.  A strategy to decrease the rate of transmission is to introduce personal-protective equipment within high-contact areas.  Although this situation is dependent on donations and funding, the UN can find more creative ways to obtain personal-protective equipment instead of asking governments to donate.  For example, they can perhaps ask fashion designers or manufacturers for supplies and trade them with a humanitarian effort reward.  Furthermore, the increase in sanitation and reduction of workers in high-demand areas will allow more room for social distancing. Throughout different pandemics, the balance between healthcare and humanitarian work must be approached in a similar perspective to create a better result.

Although the coronavirus pandemic is creating challenges for humanitarian efforts, plans must not be neglected.  Travel bans, insufficient funding and migrant sites have contributed to different risks for global health organizations.  Some of these include the lack of gear and delay in response.  However, there are also many solutions to these problems which include investing in more personal protective equipment, educating others on sanitation measures, and reducing the concentration of people in high-demand areas.  Most importantly, humanitarian efforts must be realized as long-term efforts in this situation.  If humanitarian work is addressed, the process of dealing with the virus itself will be much more impactful. 

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