Catholic Relief Services leans on experience to fight coronavirus pandemic

Washington D.C., Apr 15, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- As aid agencies struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic in parts of the developing world, Catholic Relief Services said it is relying on past experience in handling mass outbreaks of disease as it manages its own response to COVID-19. 

The aid agency, which is present in more than 90 countries and serves more than 130 million people each year, said Wednesday that it is ramping up aid efforts in countries across the world and taking a flexible approach to fighting the coronavirus. CRS is part of Caritas International, the global network of Catholic humanitarian organizations. 

Nikki Gamer, a spokesperson for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), told CNA on Wednesday that the organization is “working tirelessly to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to respond to its impact on some of the most vulnerable communities.”

“We are adapting existing programs to ensure things like social distancing and proper handwashing, for example, and are initiating new activities focused on creating awareness, prevention and quality care for those affected,” she told CNA.

Previously, CRS has worked to contain the spread of other infectious diseases and viruses, including tuberculosis, cholera, HIV, and polio. The organization worked extensively from 2014-2016 in various western African nations during the ebola outbreak, something that CRS President and CEO Sean Callahan said has influenced how they are handling COVID-19. 

“Our COVID-19 response will draw upon our experience in acute health emergencies,” such as ebola and HIV, said Callahan in a release issued Wednesday by CRS. “Our work will be informed by the local context and focus on some of the most vulnerable communities.” 

Callahan called CRS particularly “well-positioned” to assist throughout the world. 

“Our staff and partners have been a constant presence in some of the most vulnerable communities for more than 75 years and we are leveraging those relationships in times of an outbreak,” said Callahan. This extensive existing network has meant that CRS was able to “scale up” its efforts in key locations. 

Presently, CRS is focusing much of their efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus in parts of Africa, as well as Gaza and Cambodia. In Cambodia, which is not currently experiencing outbreaks at the same levels as other countries, CRS said it is working proactively with the country’s Ministry of Health and conducting health training at the provincial level to prevent mass spread of the disease from occuring. 

CRS has also sent nurses from its internship program to Gaza to help provide “surge staffing” in health facilities there.

In Kenya, CRS is moving to assist the health system in the capital of Nairobi through trainings on prevention and control of COVID-19, and has been training Kenyan healthcare workers located in areas where the disease may become prevalent. In Ethiopia, CRS has been providing workers at Catholic health facilities with personal protective equipment and isolation tents. 

As lockdown measures in many countries create widespread economic uncertainty and hardship for many families and businesses, Gamer told CNA that the organization faced similar challanges. 

“We are immensely thankful to know that the Catholic community always unites in crisis to come together to help those in most need,” said Gamer. “There is no difference now, even with the added layers of lockdowns and social distancing closing churches in our communities.” 

A person can donate through the CRS website, said Gamer, adding, “we thank all of our supporters for their collective efforts in helping us slow the spread of coronavirus for the most vulnerable people around the world.”

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