Refugees neglected in global fight against Covid: Humanitarian expert

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Reuters file photo
Reuters file photo

Abu Dhabi - Covid-19 vaccines unlikely among the top priorities for people living in Syria, Yemen, Libya.


Ismail Sebugwaawo

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Published: Wed 31 Mar 2021, 11:23 AM

People living in conflict-hit areas, especially refugees, have been neglected in the global fight against Covid-19 and seldom any individual would take up cudgels on their behalf and talk about expediting measures to administer them jabs, according to a humanitarian expert.

Ghassan Aboud, Chairman, Ghassan Aboud Group (GAG), and Founder, Orient Human Relief, made this pertinent point at a panel discussion on the second and concluding day of Hope Consortium’s World Immunisation and Logistics Summit in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

He said vaccines might not be among the top priorities for people living in conflict-hit areas such as Syria, Yemen, Libya since they largely hanker after food, healthcare and other basic amenities.

“Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, people living in the conflict-hit areas have been neglected in regard to the fight against the contagion. But we hope governments and organisations will come to their rescue by making vaccines available to them,” he said.

Aboud cited some of the vaccine challenges in conflict-hit areas such as the lack of infrastructure required to store the vaccines and where even basic civic amenities such as electricity are few and far between.

“To make matters worse, we’ve been operating amid fierce airstrikes making it difficult to reach remote rural areas because of damaged infrastructure,” he said.

“People living in conflict-hit areas also don’t trust the prevailing circumstances around them. It’s difficult to convince them to take the vaccine because they think it might be a weapon to kill them. However, media outlets are trying to sensitise them about the importance of taking the jab,” he added.

He said the world must understand that millions of refugees in various parts of the world also deserve to get vaccinated because they are vulnerable to contagious disease.

Aboud pointed out that over the last decade, medical services have been provided to people in conflict-hit areas through cooperation with the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other global bodies.

He said around 100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) based in New York are supporting the Syrian people and provide more than $200 million (m) annually in medical support.

“Previously, there have been immunisation programmes for Syrian refugees against polio and other endemic diseases and other vaccination campaigns in Turkey,” he said.

Dr Rana Hajjeh, Director of Programme Management, WHO-Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO), said there have been major difficulties in rolling out vaccine programmes in conflict-hit nations in the Arab world such as Yemen, Syria, Libya and others.

“The biggest challenge in rolling out the vaccine is equitable distribution. It is, however, important for nations to have strong systems and various regulatory measures in place to ensure a smooth rollout of the vaccines,” she said.

“The production capacity for Covid-19 vaccine in the Middle East region is rather low and needs to be stepped up to ensure self-sufficiency and we don’t have to rely on other nations or regions,” she added.

Hajjeh said Yemen and Libya have been considered and included in Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance’s Covax programme and the people living in these conflict-hit nations would be administered jabs in the near future.

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