Unprepared for the Worst: World’s Most Weak Brace for Virus


“It’s a bit naive to think that it’s not refugees and displaced people,” said Coutts.

When the Virus is Present, the camps are deeply ill-equipped to deal with it.

Many camp clinics already have problems fighting outbreaks such as dengue and cholera and do not have the resources to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease. The coronavirus, which lacks a vaccine or has agreed a treatment regimen for Covid-19, the respiratory disease it causes, could be even more devastating, medical experts warn.

"We are preparing for the worst," said Avril Benoit, the executive director of MSF in the United States, has deployed teams to work with refugees around the world. "We know that we are under-equipped and understaffed in the places where we work."

Daily life in a refugee camp is an ideal incubator for infectious diseases. Many lack running water and indoor sanitary facilities. People often queue for hours to get water that is insufficient for frequent showering and much less vigilant hand washing.

"If it came to the camp, it would be a disaster," said Ahmadu Yusuf, a community leader in Bakassi camp in northeastern Nigeria, whose residents largely fled the Boko Haram militant group. "It would be more devastating than the uprising that brought them here."

Refugee life also makes social distancing, the health mantra in the West, impossible.

In crowded, poor areas like Gaza or in the urban slums of Indonesia and India, which initiated the world's largest blockade in response to the virus this week, it is difficult to keep a meter away from everyone else . Refugee settlements are often denser.

A refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece, was built for 3,000 people, but now has 20,000 and almost no sanitation.


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