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.

As the outbreak of the novel coronavirus continues, Oxfam is gearing up its entire humanitarian aid delivery system to help the poorest and most marginalized people as they face the rising tide of infections ahead. 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).

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 or a vaccine 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.

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 we’re responding to this outbreak, we will, as with other emergencies, be working closely with our local partners and supporting 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 are increasing 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.

Icon: group of people

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 and have distributed nearly 4,500 hygiene kits. We plan to deliver almost 10,000 in total.


In Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, where over 855,000 Rohingya are living in extremely overcrowded conditions, we have stepped up our work on hygiene promotion and scaled up measures like soap distribution and sanitation facilities to help 70,000 refugees.


In Zaatari camp, Jordan - the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world – we have already started hygiene and hand washing awareness for 2,000 children and aims to reach 78,000 people with water, hygiene and sanitation.

Icon water tap

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. We’re planning to build or repair 107 water points.

Our concerns for the most vulnerable

Oxfam is very concerned should coronavirus establish itself in poorer countries with weak public health systems and whose populations are already facing multiple threats to their health and livelihoods. We are also concerned that if the disease hits refugee camps and other places where people are already struggling to access health care or food, it will become even more devastating.

Women especially are likely to be hardest hit – 70% of the world’s health workers are women who’ll be on the frontline of infection risk – and women shoulder the vast burden of unpaid care which is bound to increase dramatically, whether caring for sick relatives or looking after children at home because schools are closed.

You can help us save lives

Right now, we are on the frontlines of preventing catastrophe 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 save millions of lives now – the most vulnerable, poorest and greatest-at-risk populations. We need you to help us make a difference before it’s too late.