Unchanged commitment to reaching the most vulnerable

Shortly after the World Health Organisation declared coronavirus a pandemic, Medair reached out to supporters for assistance with our global response.

Due to rising costs of personal protection equipment and the expenses of maintaining a supply chain, our funding gap is more than $1.6 million. Across all of our country programmes, our priorities are to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to provide life-saving assistance to those who are particularly vulnerable. In the month of April alone, we reached more than 200,000 people with messages about COVID-19 prevention, and provided hygiene supplies to 36,000 people.

Bringing treatment to malnourished women and children is considered an essential service and Medair is mandated to continue operation. It is deep within the vision of Medair to reach the most remote and vulnerable with life-saving help, and despite new challenges our commitment to the people in Afghanistan remains unchanged .

As global guidelines for preventing the spread of coronavirus were issued earlier in 2020, our field teams were quickly adapting all of their humanitarian activities. Mobile nutrition teams began implementing measures to ensure the safety of staff and patients. We have more than doubled the number of handwashing stations at nutrition sites, and everyone entering is screened for symptoms of COVID-19. Staff and volunteers wear appropriate protection equipment (PPE), and give extra education on what COVID-19 is and how it is prevented. Contact with malnourished women and children is kepte at a minimum, and spaces are thoroughly disinfected before and after our work.

Accessing the remote villages of Afghanistan’s Central Highlands region has always been challenging, , even prior to this new crisis. Clusters of homes are reachable only via stretches of treacherous roads, narrowly cut into rocky hillsides. These areas are easily cut off by snowfall, avalanches, and landslides.

One morning, after navigating through the mountains for hours, our team faced a new barrier. Just outside the village, a makeshift roadblock had been set up to keep out COVID-19.

We meet with the village elders. We explain the precautions we are taking, and the work Medair has already done; treating the poorest and most vulnerable within the village. The team is quickly allowed to pass through.

In this village we were able to treat many malnourished pregnant women and young children, including Roya*, a 16-month-old girl. Roya became severely malnourished while the village was isolated by snow during the harsh winter. Roya and her mother received therapeutic food, medicines, and hygiene counselling.

A nurse provided breastfeeding counselling to a new mother, who walked over the hills to seek help after she was struggling to feed her 12-day-old baby. A community volunteer, trained by Medair, taught people about the risks of coronavirus and reminded waiting mothers about proper handwashing technique.

At the end of the day, as the team packed up to leave, a community elder invited us to return. We thanked them for their welcome and wished the village health and safety.

COVID-19 is affecting the way of life for people everywhere, including in the most remote areas of Afghanistan. We are adapting the way we do things in all of our programmes but our mandate and drive to reach the most vulnerable has not changed. We set out for the hours-long drive back to our base. But we will be back.

Medair is an international humanitarian NGO that provides emergency relief and recovery services to families made vulnerable by natural disasters, conflicts, and other crises. Medair is currently active in 12 countries.

This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and Global Support Office staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.

*Names have been changed.