"We must find ways to maintain our global humanity if we are to defeat coronavirus"
By Alexander Matheou, executive director of international, British Red Cross
As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold across the world, countries will rightly be focussing on delaying, mitigating and recovering from the effects of this deadly virus on their population. But in our attempt to isolate this virus, we must take care not to isolate ourselves completely from the rest of the world.
This global pandemic is unprecedented and the full extent of its devastating impact is not yet clear. But in the coming days, weeks, months and even years, now more than ever we must find ways to maintain our global humanity. We have already seen extraordinary bravery by doctors from Cuba and volunteers from the Chinese Red Cross who, over the last few weeks, have arrived in Italy to support the medical response and share expertise of how to manage this crisis.
As the British Red Cross, we are working around the clock to support the NHS and assist the most vulnerable here in the UK. We will also take part in delivering assistance as part of our global humanitarian mandate to help the world’s most vulnerable communities.
As the largest humanitarian network in the world, the Red Cross’ work to protect life and health, ensure respect for all human beings, and to prevent and alleviate human suffering could not be more relevant to guide us through these uncertain times.
WE ARE DEEPLY CONCERNED ABOUT THOSE WHO ARE ALREADY SUFFERING IN SEVERE HUMANITARIAN CRISES.
The more than 70 million people who are forcibly displaced, many living in sprawling camps such as those in Bangladesh, Greece, Jordan and Kenya, where the lack of safe and proper sanitation will mean even the seemingly simple tasks of washing hands or maintaining social distancing rules is almost impossible for most.
We are concerned for countries such as Syria and Yemen, where years of brutal conflict have already decimated health systems.
And we mustn't forget the impact this will have on regions already under strain due to climate change: Southern and Eastern Africa, and the Sahel, among many others.
Adapting our programmes to respond to the outbreak
The Red Cross and Red Crescent is already present in these places through our National Societies, supported by our international bodies. Much like in the UK, we are adapting our programmes to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and launching fresh efforts in all corners of the globe.
The experiences of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have taught us how to respond. From the Haiti Earthquake, to the Ebola epidemic, to the Myanmar/Bangladesh crisis, our longstanding work with local communities, governments, and other humanitarian organisations means that we are already on the ground with the right expertise to assist.
These challenges are not incompatible with an international ethos and the humanitarian principles that have seen us through countless conflicts, disasters, and health crises. As the International Red Cross Movement launches it largest ever global humanitarian appeal, now more than ever the world must come together to fight this disease.
Executive director for international
Alexander Matheou is the executive director for international at the British Red Cross. He leads a team based in the UK and abroad, ensuring the Red Cross is supporting people in crisis overseas wherever the need is greatest.
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