Oxfam’s response to coronavirus

Students of the Primary Complex School in Gondokoro island, South Sudan, attend an awareness event organised by Oxfam to prevent cholera and inform about good hygienic practices.

Faced with the coronavirus pandemic, Oxfam has geared up its entire humanitarian aid delivery system to help the poorest and most marginalized people as they face the rising tide of infections. Despite access restrictions, we are working around the clock with our local partners in more than 60 countries to deliver much needed assistance to curb to spread of the virus and help protect communities from its economic impact. You can help.

What is coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The current pandemic is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans. The main source of the outbreak is still unknown but considering previous experiences of coronaviruses, it is most likely that the virus made the jump to humans from animals. The disease triggered by the new coronavirus is called COVID-19 (as it was first discovered in 2019).

As of May 2021, there have been over 160 million cases worldwide and over 3.3 million people have died.

In COVID-19, the symptoms are very similar to the common cold or flu, including fever, cough, sore throat and/or lethargy. Some people develop more symptoms such as shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. 

It is thought that coronavirus may be transmitted by person-to-person contact (through the air by coughing and sneezing, or through close personal contact such as touching or shaking hands) or by touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands. It is not known how long the virus can survive on different surfaces as yet.

There is no specific treatment available yet for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. However, many of the symptoms can be treated based on the patient’s clinical condition. Current analysis shows 97-98% of those infected with coronavirus survive the illness, and 80% of those infected show no severe symptoms.

Effective vaccines can offer the world a way out of this pandemic and we have seen promising results from several drug companies. However, 9 out of 10 people in some of the world’s poorest countries are set to miss out on a vaccine next year, while rich countries have bought up enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations nearly three times over by the end of 2021.

How is Oxfam responding?

Oxfam is mobilizing to prevent the spread of coronavirus and save lives. Water, sanitation and hygiene are vital for any attempts to manage the rate of inevitable infections and have been areas of our core work for decades. We have longstanding operational experience in responding to public health emergencies and our expertise is informed by lessons from past epidemics like cholera, Zika and Ebola. As with other emergencies, we work closely with our local partners and support them and their work wherever possible.

Our priority is to support the most vulnerable people, especially those in higher-risk environments such as refugee camps or crowded urban areas. Our teams have increased the delivery of clean water, sanitation services such as handwashing facilities and hygiene materials like soap. We work with communities on hygiene awareness, help ensure access to food and other essentials, and get cash to those most in need.

Globally, our humanitarian response has reached 14 million people across 68 countries.

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In Yemen, Oxfam is training volunteers to raise awareness of the virus and promote hygiene amongst conflict-affected communities. We provide cash to displaced families, distribute hygiene kits and truck in clean water to camps for people who have fled their homes.


In Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, where almost a million Rohingya are living in extremely overcrowded conditions, we have stepped up our work on hygiene promotion and water and sanitation facilities. We distribute soap and clean water and develop innovative tools to stop the spread such as contactless hand-washing stations.


In Iraq, our network of local partners helped us to train large numbers of community volunteers to respond rapidly to Covid-19. We supported vulnerable families with emergency food baskets across the country and provided cash assistance to help mitigate against worsening poverty.

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In Burkina Faso, where 780,000 people are internally displaced (IDP), we are currently working in some of the largest IDP areas ensuring access to safe, clean water. Our program aims to improve community knowledge on COVID-19 and prevention measures, and to foster community engagement in the face of the pandemic.

Our concerns for the most vulnerable

Oxfam is very concerned about coronavirus establishing itself in poorer countries with weak public health systems and whose populations are already facing multiple threats. We are also concerned about the devastating impact it can have in refugee camps or on top of ongoing crisis or conflict in places where people are struggling to access health care or food.

Women especially are the hardest hit. 70% of the world’s health workers are women who are on the frontline of infection risk. They shoulder the vast burden of unpaid care which has increased dramatically. They have disproportionately been pushed out of employment by the pandemic, especially as they are overrepresented in the informal economy.

You can help us save lives

Right now, we are on the frontlines in some of the world’s most vulnerable places, supporting our local partners and acting to save as many lives as we can. We have it in our power to protect the most vulnerable, poorest and greatest-at-risk populations. We need you to help us make a difference.