Over the last weekend in April, the worldwide total of new COVID-19 cases declined over a three day period for the first time in weeks. The total death toll, however, was close to reaching 3,000,000 around the globe. Unprecedented efforts by medical doctors and nurses and those heeding stay-at-home restrictions appear to have slowed the spread.
Yet it’s far from certain that the world can yet declare victory. The principal concern is that comprehensive returns from poorer countries that lack advanced medical care are still to be determined. And as residents’ stay-at-home orders are being relaxed in some countries, the struggle is far from over. At the end of 2019, more than 70 million people around the globe had been displaced or fled their homes because of local strife, unemployment, or disease.
That’s particularly the case in Africa, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, in civil war-devastated Yemen, and Burmese refugee camps in Bangladesh as well as the estimated two million people who have fled oppression or uncertainty in Venezuela for neighboring Colombia and Brazil.
But as Nicholas Kristof noted in an April 26 New York Times article, “You can change lives in a pandemic.” He adds: “A nightmare for global experts is in the COVID-19 virus racing through refugee camps like Dadaab in Kenya, near the Somali border, with more than 200,000 people or through the vast refugee camps of displaced people in Syria or Yemen.
“If that happens, and it may just be a matter of time,” Mr. Kristof adds, “the International Rescue Committee (IRC) will be on the front lines, fighting to save lives. Founded at the suggestion of Albert Einstein,” he adds, “the IRC is a gold standard organization in some of the toughest neighborhoods around the globe.”
“Last month, the IRC announced an initiative to address the virus worldwide, including migrant camps on the Mexican side of the U.S. border.” The IRC, Mr. Kristof writes, trains volunteers to help Central American asylum seekers from Central America, perhaps illegally, and “are easy prey for gangs and viruses alike.”
“The IRC trains volunteers who work with church and community leaders to try to limit the pandemic in this vulnerable population. As the son of a refugee”, Mr. Kristof concludes, “I feel particular admiration for an aid group that tries to save the lives of people who have already endured so much.”
Another principal global humanitarian assistance organization is Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders). Its teams “are responding to coronavirus on multiple fronts”, according to an MSF website. These include:
*Caring for patients
*Offering health education
*Providing training for vital COVID-19 infection control in 72 of 213 countries and territories worldwide.
*20 of these countries are in Africa, 12 in the Middle East, and 12 in East and South Asia.
In Doctors Without Borders camps, local physicians and caregivers join French partners and local teams to help limit the cases of COVID-19.
The pandemic, however, has caused radical changes in traditional Islamic rituals. The beginning of the month-long Ramadan observance, April 19, has greatly reduced mosque attendance from Indonesia to Morocco. The majority of Muslim populations traditionally participate in mass gatherings, and now must stay home. According to the Pew Research Center, 50 countries in Asia and Africa had Muslim majorities in 2015.
According to the Washington Post, Saudi Arabia is suspending visas for Muslims seeking to make pilgrimages to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The Post quotes a Cairo engineer as saying “This year will be different and there is nothing we can do about it”.
Some Rays of Sunshine
Danielle Paquette of the Washington Post focused on Ghana’s dancing pallbearers. She notes that the group broke solemn traditions in their homeland by filming their dancing routines and distributing the footage online.
“Richmond Lee, a video game artist in Chiang Mai, Thailand, described them as The Meme of 2020 to his more than 13,000 followers: “I’ve seen it used in Thai, Chinese and Japanese memes as well.”
Is it possible that the coronavirus has even united traditional enemies around the globe? The Post’s Steve Hendrix filed a front-page story on April 26 from Jerusalem that described how the pandemic has created “a bridge between Israeli patients and Palestinian doctors and nurses.”
“For many healthcare workers, exhausting themselves shift after shift, this shared fight against a common enemy has provided a boost of mutual esteem amid the dark days of crisis.”
May that esteem last and grow in the wake of the 21st century’s most deadly global pandemic.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More