On March 25, 2020, the United Nations issued a 2 billion dollar appeal to fight the novel coronavirus in the most vulnerable countries: developing nations that lack the resources and medical equipment needed to combat the virus. As of April 2, 2020, there have been over 900,000 confirmed cases and a death toll of over 50,000, with the U.S. seeing the highest number of cases in a single country. Although the risk to developed nations is great, especially for vulnerable refugee and immigrant populations, many experts are shifting their focus to the people most defenseless to the virus—and it’s not just the elderly.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that “more than three quarters of refugees live in developing countries”. Due to the fragile health-care systems in the developing world, the 70 million refugees, internally displaced people, forced migrants, and asylum seekers will not be able to receive the medical care they need should there be an outbreak. These individuals live in densely populated areas—such as refugee camps, impoverished urban spaces, and informal settlements. As life in these crowded spaces makes social distancing more or less impossible, the virus would spread rapidly. Healthcare services are limited in these areas, and the intensive treatment needed to care for infected patients is essentially non-existent and inaccessible to most.
International refugee agencies are doing their best to respond to this crisis. The UNHRC and International Organization of Migration (IOM) have suspended all resettlement travel until further notice—a double-edged sword, since refugee families are now experiencing delays in long-awaited reunions with family members living in the camps. We have yet to see the pandemic reach its full potential in developing countries, and projections say the number of cases will rise. The only way to inhibit the spread of the virus is to implement preventative measures. In an informative article by Refugees International, researchers outline several recommendations to reduce the spread of coronavirus in developing countries.