The scale and severity of the coronavirus pandemic continue to challenge governments around the world to not only act quickly to enforce regulations, but also to deliver basic living and medical services to the most vulnerable populations - from the impoverished, to refugees displaced from their countries of origin. The World Health Organization (WHO) envisions human rights and health as ensuring access to timely, quality health care for each person in every population.
Global organizations have extended their communications reach to support countries by using technology and apps to deliver services in the most remote of regions. In Canada, PeaceGeeks is contributing by updating its Arrival Advisor mobile app with links to timely updates on COVID-19 resources. The free Arrival Advisor app helps refugees and immigrants in British Columbia find information and essential services to assist in their settlement journey.
The biggest challenge facing the spread of the virus is the sheer number of countries and territories affected, which currently stands at 210. Every country is grappling with how to deliver timely and effective health care solutions to the most vulnerable populations including displaced people and refugees. In 2019, the world witnessed a troubling trend in the global refugee crisis as the number of displaced people grew to be more than 70 million with over 25 million refugees globally.
One lifeline used by refugees on their mobile platforms during times of crisis is WhatsApp, the most popular instant messaging app worldwide. WhatsApp is helping the vulnerable connect with those that matter most like their health care professionals and family using chat groups and group video calls.
WHO has responded quickly to the global need with OpenWHO, a new interactive, web-based, platform offering online courses to improve the response to health emergencies. OpenWHO enables the organization and its key partners to transfer life-saving knowledge to large numbers of frontline responders. OpenWHO’s learning resources for COVID-19 have been partially or fully translated into 18 national languages and has more than 180,000 users accessing its resources.
Tracing the origin of COVID-19 can play a pivotal part in containing the spread. Assistance from technology companies, including Apple and Google will support public health authorities, universities, and NGOs around the world with apps in the coming months. The apps will use Bluetooth technology to deliver opt-in contact tracing technology with user privacy and security as key components. As early as May, the companies are already beginning to work on a robust platform that will enable interaction between government health authorities and different apps that are already in use for tracing COVID-19.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are collaborating with experts to develop Private Automatic Contact Tracing (PACT), which is designed to help public health officials track and trace COVID-19 while preserving privacy. Using Bluetooth technology, the system allows people that test positive for COVID-19 to upload a list of chirps, which are short-range data strings that “link” to other data emitting devices at a close range. Other people can then scan the database to see if any of the chirps match the ones picked up by their phones, and this enables users to be notified that they may have been exposed to the virus.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is delivering essential laboratory equipment to test for the virus, medical supplies to treat people, and installing handwashing stations in refugee camps and settlements. In addition, the UN Refugee Agency is appealing to the private sector to donate up to $255 million to focus on priority countries that require essential needs during the pandemic. In response, Sony Corporation has established the Sony Global Relief Fund for COVID-19, where a US$3 million contribution will be made to help protect refugees and their host communities.
Refugee children are among the most vulnerable during any crisis. A new online and audio storybook “My Hero is You, How kids can fight COVID-19!” has been produced by a collaboration of more than 50 organizations working in the humanitarian sector, including WHO, the UN Children’s Fund, the UNHCR, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and Save the Children. The resource aims to help children protect themselves, and their families from coronavirus and is a resource on how to manage emotions during this rapidly evolving time.
And here at home in Canada, Ottawa-based Ruckify is partnering with United Way to bring connectivity to vulnerable and socially isolated people. Ruckify’s platform is the world's largest peer-to-peer rental marketplace and offers the opportunity for individuals and companies to rent out their items within local communities. Ruckify is calling on people to donate or rent out unused items like smartphones, tablets, or any computers so they can put them in the hands of those in need during the pandemic.
If you know of other valuable services available to refugees, displaced people, or the vulnerable in your local community please leave a comment with the link and remember #wereinthistogether.