COVID-19 global outbreak special

COVID-19 global outbreak special

Public health emergencies: COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic

Public health emergencies of international concern is a formal declaration by the WHO and is defined as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”. This definition implies a situation that is “serious, unusual or unexpected, carries implications for public health beyond the affected state’s national border and may require immediate international action” (IHR 2005, WHO). A pandemic is according to WHO “a worldwide spread of a new disease” whereas an epidemic is “the occurrence in a community or region of cases of an illness, specific health-related behavior, or other health-related events clearly in excess of normal expectancy”. A disease outbreak is “the occurrence of disease cases in excess of normal expectancy. The number of cases varies according to the disease-causing agent, and the size and type of previous and existing exposure to the agent” (WHO).

Public health emergencies of international concern, pandemics, epidemics and disease outbreaks – hereafter referred to as public health emergencies – can have serious consequences for people’s mental and/or physical health and psychosocial well-being and pose a threat to individuals’ and communities’ human rights. It is therefore extremely important that responses to public health emergencies include special measures aimed at protecting and promoting human rights and mental health.

The COVID-19 pandemic:
In March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) made the assessment that the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can be characterized as a pandemic.

It is pivotal that everyone has access to accurate information about the outbreak from reliable sources. Also, people should receive information about how to cope with the crisis and protect one’s own and one’s loved ones mental health. Further, it is pivotal to be reminded of everyone’s fundamental human rights, including the right to health and healthcare and its highly important implications for global and national responses to the coronavirus, as well as the total prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

During this crisis, it is of particular importance that we think about and have solidarity with people who were already in a vulnerable and unstable situation prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Refugees and asylum seekers, so-called illegal immigrants and stateless people, people living in detention, people with disabilities, and people with physical and/or mental illness, people living in poverty and extreme poverty, and other particularly vulnerable groups, are in urgent need of appropriate healthcare and adequate preventive measures. Women and children, older adults, human rights defenders, LGBT+, and other groups may also be at increased risk of having their rights violated and of not receiving appropriate health care and support. The current situation is exigent for the most vulnerable among us.

What we have included on this page:
Below, you can find information about the right to health in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as reliable and updated information on the global development of the COVID-19 pandemic at WHO’s resource database EPI-WIN. We have included some of the WHO regional pages focusing on the development of the pandemic in Africa, the Americas including Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Mediterranean including Libya and Syria, South-East Asia and the Western Pacific. You can also find highly important information from among others the SPT about responses to the pandemic in contexts where persons are deprived of their liberty. We have included information on mental health and psychosocial aspects of the outbreak, as well as information on humanitarian response including information from UNHCR on refugees and host communities, gender implications and gender-based violence (GBV). You can further find information about child protection, prevention and control in schools, and how to help children cope with stress during the pandemic as well as information on how to cope and take care of your own mental health during this crisis. Last, you can find information on myths and social stigma.

The Right to Health 
World Health Organization, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
First of all, we need to be reminded of the fundamental human right to health, meaning that every human being has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental healthAs stated by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “the right to health means that everyone should have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship. No one should get sick and die just because they are poor, or because they cannot access the health services they need”.
During the coronavirus outbreak, it is especially important that we are reminded of this fundamental right. Key aspects of the right to health that are particularly important during the coronavirus outbreak include:

  • The right to a system of health protection providing equality of opportunity for everyone to enjoy the highest attainable level of health
  • The right to prevention, treatment and control of diseases
  • Access to essential medicines
  • The provision of health-related education and information
  • Health services, goods and facilities must be provided to all without any discrimination. Non-discrimination is a key principle in human rights and is crucial to the enjoyment of the right to the highest attainable standard of health
  • All services, goods and facilities must be available, accessible, acceptable and of good quality

As Dr. Ghebreyesus reminds us, one of the central principles of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is that no one is left behind. Responses to the coronavirus should under no circumstance discriminate between people. A rights-based approach to health requires that health policy and programs in general, and those directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak, must prioritize the needs of those furthest behind first. As stated by the WHO Director-General, “When people are marginalized or face stigma or discrimination, their physical and mental health suffers. (…) We must all work together to combat inequalities and discriminatory practices so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of good health, no matter their age, sex, race, religion, health status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or migration status.”

EPI-WIN: Updated and reliable information on the COVID-19 pandemic
World Health Organization
EPI-WIN seeks to give people access to timely accurate information from trusted sources. This information will be tailored to different audiences and will answer pertinent questions as the event unfolds. Visit this WHO webpage here.

Policy Brief: COVID-19 and the Need for Action on Mental Health
United Nations, 13 May 2020 
Although the COVID-19 crisis is, in the first instance, a physical health crisis, it has the seeds of a major mental health crisis  as well, if action is not taken. Good mental health is critical to the functioning of society at the best of times. It must be front and centre of every country’s response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this crisis and are a priority to be addressed urgently.

African countries move from COVID-19 readiness to response as many confirm cases
WHO Regional Office for Africa
In Africa, the virus has spread to dozens of countries within weeks. Governments and health authorities across the continent are striving to limit widespread infections. Since the start of the outbreak the World Health Organization (WHO) has been supporting African governments with early detection by providing thousands of COVID-19 testing kits to countries, training dozens of health workers and strengthening surveillance in communities. Forty-seven countries in the WHO African region can now test for COVID-19. At the start of the outbreak only two could do so. WHO has issued guidance to countries, which is regularly updated to take into account the evolving situation.

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
WHO Regional Office for the Americas
World Health Organization official information page in English and Spanish about the pandemic in North and South America, including Latin America and the Caribbean. Includes interactive map with updated number of reported cases, technical guidelines, communication materials, evidence portal and a description of the development of the pandemic in the region.

Official WHO EMRO webpage with information on COVID-19
WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean 
The past weeks have seen some of the most developed health systems in the world struggle with their response to COVID-19. The emergence of the virus in much more vulnerable countries with fragile health systems in the Region, including Syria and Libya, is of special concern. Of equal concern are global shortages in laboratory testing kits and protective equipment for health workers, as well travel restrictions and border closures. All of these are impeding WHO’s ability to provide urgently needed technical expertise and supplies to these and other countries. In Syria, more than 9 years of war have heavily impacted the capacity of the health sector, with only 50% of public hospitals and 47% of public primary health care centres fully functional by the end of 2019. Additionally, thousands of qualified health professionals have fled the country. A country like Syria, ravaged by conflict and displacement, and with a health system already pushed to its limits, will clearly be overburdened by an outbreak of COVID-19, and the impact could be catastrophic. In the northwest — by far the least prepared area in Syria to face a pandemic — millions of vulnerable, internally displaced people living in overcrowded camps are highly susceptible to infectious diseases, relying on a crippled health system. It is now a question of time when we’ll see the first cases of COVID19 in northwest Syria.

WHO supports countries to mitigate COVID-19 spread in the Region
WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia 
As the COVID-19  pandemic spreads, WHO is supporting countries in their containment and mitigation efforts such as by providing technical guidance, laboratory capacity strengthening for testing, equipment for hospitals and healthcare workers, and creating awareness and addressing misinformation. This website provides information and guidance of relevance to the WHO South-East Asia Region. From strengthening screening at airports and laboratory capacity to awareness campaigns, all countries are carrying out a range of measures to respond to this outbreak, declared as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). WHO has provided technical guidance on all key areas.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific 
Since 2 January 2020, the three levels of WHO (China country office, Regional Office for the Western Pacific and headquarters) have been working together to respond to this outbreak of COVID-19. On 30 January, WHO declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). On 11 March, WHO Director General characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic.

Advice of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture to States Parties and
National Preventive Mechanisms relating to the Coronavirus Pandemic
The UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT), 2020
Persons deprived of their liberty comprise a particularly vulnerable group owing to the nature of the restrictions which are already placed upon them and their limited capacity to take precautionary measures. Within prisons and other detention settings, many of which are severely overcrowded and insanitary, there are also increasingly acute problems. The SPT gives advice on:

  • Measures to be taken by authorities concerning all places of deprivation of liberty, including detention facilities, immigration detention, closed refugee camps, psychiatric hospitals and other medical settings
  • Measures to be taken by authorities in respect of those in official places of
  • Measures to be taken by NPMs

The SPT and NPMs must be conscious of the ‘do no harm’ principle as they undertake their work. This may mean that NPMs should adapt their working methods to meet the situation caused by the pandemic in order to safeguard the public, detention staff, detainees and themselves. The overriding criterion must be that of effectiveness in securing the prevention of ill-treatment of those subject to detaining measures.

COVID-19: Focus on Persons Deprived of their Liberty 
OHCHR and WHO, 2020
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic and as it is spreading, identified vulnerabilities such as the situation of persons deprived of their liberty in prisons, administrative detention centres, immigration detention centres and drug rehabilitation centres, require a specific focus. Persons deprived of their liberty face higher vulnerabilities as the spread of the virus can expand rapidly due to the usually high concentration of persons deprived of their liberty in confined spaces and to the restricted access to hygiene and health care in some contexts. International standards highlight that states should ensure that persons in detention have access to the same standard of health care as is available in the community, and that this applies to all persons regardless of citizenship, nationality or migration status.

Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak
World Health Organization, 2020
WHO and public health authorities around the world are acting to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. However, this time of crisis is generating stress in the population. These mental health considerations were developed by the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Use as messages targeting different groups to support for mental and psychosocial well-being during COVID-19 outbreak. Follow the link below for detailed advice for:

  • the general population
  • healthcare workers
  • team leaders or managers in health facility
  • care providers for children
  • older adults, care providers and people with underlying health conditions
  • people in isolation

You can access the full list of recommendations here.

Addressing mental health and psychosocial aspects of COVID-19 Outbreak
Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), 2020
This briefing note (Version 1.5) summarizes key mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) considerations in relation to the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The briefing note includes information on the following topics:

  • Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) and the intervention pyramid
  • Mental health and psychosocial responses to COVID-19
  • Overarching principles for an MHPSS response to COVID-19
  • Globally recommended activities
  • INTERVENTION 1: Helping older adults cope with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak
  • INTERVENTION 2: Supporting the needs of people with disabilities during a COVID-19 outbreak
  • INTERVENTION 3: Messages & activities for helping children deal with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak
  • INTERVENTION 4: MHPSS activities for adults in isolation/quarantine
  • INTERVENTION 5: Supporting people working in the COVID-19 response
  • INTERVENTION 6: Community MHPSS messages during the COVID-19 outbreak

You can access the full briefing note here.

Global Humanitarian Response Plan COVID-19
United Nations Coordinated Appeal, April – December 2020 
COVID-19 is having an unprecedented impact on all countries, both in terms of prompting the scaling of public health preparedness and response and protection of vulnerable populations, and in terms of requiring mitigation of broader social and economic impacts. While all countries need to respond to COVID-19, those with existing humanitarian crises are particularly vulnerable, and less equipped and able to do so. Humanitarian needs may also occur in other countries as a result of excessive pressure on health systems and the overall delivery of essential services, as well as secondary effects on employment, the economy and mobility, the rule of law, protection of human rights, and possible social discontent and unrest.
Short version available in FrenchArabicSpanish, and Chinese.

Identifying and Mitigating Gender-based Violence Risks within the COVID-19 Response
Inter-Agency Standing Committee, Global Protection Cluster, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present an array of challenges, forcing nearly all types of basic service delivery – including, but not limited to, humanitarian response – to drastically adapt. Given how quickly the outbreak continues to evolve; the variation across contexts in the impact of the disease and the measures being implemented to control its spread; and the lack of documented good practice for delivering aid and services under such conditions, to a large extent the entire international system is learning as we go. As such, this document presents an initial summary of potential GBV risk mitigation actions, based on established good practice, that are starting points to address GBV risks in this unprecedented situation. The GBV risk mitigation actions summarized below are presented in the spirit of collective and iterative problem-solving.

Scaling-Up COVID-19 Outbreak Readiness And Response Operations in Humanitarian Situations, Version 1.1
People affected by humanitarian crises, particularly those displaced and/or living in camps and camp-like settings, are often faced with specific challenges and vulnerabilities that must be taken into consideration when planning for readiness and response operations for the COVID-19 outbreak. They are frequently neglected, stigmatized, and may face difficulties in accessing health services that are otherwise available to the general population. In the context of this Interim Guidance, the people in humanitarian situations affected by this guidance may include internally displaced persons (IDPs), host communities, asylum seekers, refugees and returnees, and migrants when in similar situations. While further adaptations might be needed for some population groups, including those living in slums this interim guidance is issued to assist field staff to immediately respond to urgent needs.

UNHCR coronavirus outbreak information page
UNHCR, 2020
COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic, endangers everyone on the planet – including refugees and other people displaced by conflict or persecution. UNHCR is stepping up health, water, sanitation and hygiene services to protect refugees and displaced people. We are working with governments, which lead the coronavirus response, to ensure that people forced to flee are included in preparation and response plans.

Adjusting Food Distribution Standard Operating Procedures in the Context of the COVID-19 Outbreak  
World Food Program, 2020
This document aims to guide the revision of existing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Food Distribution in the COVID-19 context at the country level to minimize the risk of exposure of personnel, partners and beneficiaries. It is not meant to replace existing SOPs, but rather complement them. Adjustments to existing food distribution SOPs should be in alignment with other country-specific guidance shared by the relevant authorities and partners (e.g. Ministry of Health (MoH), WHO etc.), as well as the national public health emergency preparedness plan or equivalent when available. For refugee settings, this should be done in coordination with UNHCR, MoH and other public health agencies.

Tools & Resources COVID-19 
Gender Based Violence AoR, 2020
Resource page for the COVID-19 pandemic including:

  • Case study/best practices/examples from the field (Mozambique, Sudan, Libya, Iraq, South Sudan, Myanmar)
  • Helpdesk Products
  • Report/literature review/research paper
  • Manual and toolkit
  • E-learnings, podcasts, videos

Gender Implications of COVID-19 Outbreaks in Development and Humanitarian Settings 
Care 2020
Until recently, the transmission of COVID-19 to developing countries or those experiencing ongoing
humanitarian emergencies had been limited,3 but such transmission is now occurring. Development and
humanitarian settings pose particular challenges for infectious disease prevention and control.4 Access
constraints and poor health and sanitation infrastructure are obstacles to disease prevention and treatment under the best of circumstances; when coupled with gender inequality and, in some cases, insecurity, public health responses become immeasurably more complex.

GBV Case Management and the COVID-19 Pandemic
GBV AoR Helpdesk by Robyn Yaker and Dorcas Erskine, 2020
This note aims to provide practical support to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) practitioners to adapt
GBV case management service delivery models quickly and ethically during the current COVID-19
pandemic. It does not address all aspects of a gendered analysis that are necessary to create a robust
response, nor is it a definitive set of guidelines. Rather, it is designed to be a “living” document, that
will continue to draw upon the expertise of the global community in this new and evolving field. It
assumes that users of this note already understand and are familiar with GBV case management.
Whilst the pathology of COVID-19 presents some unique challenges, GBV programming from other
contexts of severely restricted access, such as conflict and natural disaster, offer important insights
into how the provision of remote GBV case management support may be adapted to continue to offer
a critical avenue of support to vulnerable women and girls.

CP AoR Child Protection Resource Menu for COVID-19
The CP AoR Help Desk is managing a dropbox folder with collected global, regional, and country-level
resources for COVID-19, and this document will be a living document stored in the dropbox folder.
The link to this document can be found here. Contact Lauren Bienkowski at to share additional materials or offer feedback and suggestions.
While many documents below are from known organizations on verified sites, please note that not all
resources below have been vetted by qualified health experts. Thus, it is important to confirm the use
or adaptation of any materials with health, protection, and other colleagues in your country not only
to ensure accuracy but also appropriateness & relevance for your context.

COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools 
The purpose of this document is to provide clear and actionable guidance for safe operations through the prevention, early detection and control of COVID-19 in schools and other educational facilities. The guidance, while specific to countries that have already confirmed the transmission of COVID-19, is still relevant in all other contexts. Education can encourage students to become advocates for disease prevention and control at home, in school, and in their community by talking to others about how to prevent the spread of viruses. Maintaining safe school operations or reopening schools after a closure requires many considerations but, if done well, can promote public health.

Helping children cope with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak
World Health Organization
Information sheet on how to help children cope with stress during the Coronavirus outbreak from WHO. It can be accessed here. We recommend printing the sheet if you are able to and keep it somewhere where you see it regularly and are reminded of these concrete steps that you can take to support your children.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) resource page
UNICEF is working with global health experts around the clock to provide accurate information. Information you can trust is grounded in the latest scientific evidence. We’ll continue to provide the latest updatesexplainers for parents and teachers, and resources for media as new information becomes available, so check back to stay informed of the best ways to protect yourself and your family.

What can we say to children about Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Clinic for crisis psychology, Norway
The guide covers the following topics:

  • Facts about the corona virus
  • What can we say to the children
  • For parents with young children
  • General advice for conversations with children
  • Family life in a ‘new’ world

You can access the full online guide here.

Coping with stress during the 2019-nCOV outbreak
World Health Organization
Information sheet on how to cope with stress during the Coronavirus outbreak from WHO. It can be accessed here. We recommend printing the sheet if you are able to and keep it somewhere where you see it regularly and are reminded of these concrete steps that you can take to limit stress.

Speaking of Psychology: Coronavirus Anxiety – Bonus Episode
American Psychological Association, 2020 
Fear about the coronavirus has gripped the world. While nearly all cases have been in China, that has not stopped people in other countries from worrying. This new illness certainly is frightening and needs attention, but it’s important to note that far more people die from an illness that’s all too familiar — the seasonal flu. Why are we so afraid of this novel coronavirus when we are much more likely to catch the flu? Our guest, Baruch Fischhoff, PhD, is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and an expert on public perception of risk and human judgment and decision-making. He explains why we worry about new risks more than familiar ones, how to calm our anxiety and what are the psychological effects of being quarantined. Listen to the episode here.

Five Ways to View Coverage of the Coronavirus
American Psychological Association, 2020
New reports about COVID-19 are becoming more widespread and are making some people anxious. Here are some tips to help you manage your anxiety, put news reports in perspective and maintain a positive outlook. You can access the list of recommendations here.

Myth busters
World Health Organization
Not everything you hear about coronavirus (COVID-19) is true, seek advice and information from trusted sources as myths and rumors can be damaging to public health. Here are the answers to some of the common ‘myths’ or questions about coronavirus (COVID-19). You can find the information on myths here.

Social Stigma associated with COVID-19
World Health Organization
Social stigma in the context of health is the negative association between a person or group of people who share certain characteristics and a specific disease. In an outbreak, this may mean people are labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against, treated separately, and/or experience loss of status because of a perceived link with a disease. The current COVID-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviours against people of certain ethnic backgrounds as well as anyone perceived to have been in contact with the virus. Access the information page here.