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What are we doing about COVID-19?

19 March 2020, Impact of Our Work

The facts about COVID-19 and what Save the Children is doing

On Thursday 30 January the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 epidemic an international Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) following the outbreak which began in Wuhan, China in December 2019. The PHEIC serves notice to all United Nations member states that the world’s top health advisory body rates the situation as serious and is calling for coordinated global action to halt the spread of this virus. 

“Save the Children has decades of experience responding to public health emergencies including disease outbreaks. We are closely monitoring the spread of the novel coronavirus and its potential impact on our staff and our operations, particularly in those countries where an outbreak could spread rapidly.

Dr Zaeem Haq, Global Medical Director, Save the Children

On 11 March, the WHO characterised COVID-19 as a pandemic. The term is used to refer to the spread of the disease, not how serious the illness is. Although COVID-9 is a serious disease, the measures to help prevent it are simple. Effective hand washing and simple hygiene measures make all the difference in this case. 

What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that can cause illness as minor as a cold, but in some cases the virus can be fatal. This outbreak is caused by a new strain of coronavirus, now called COVID-19, which has not previously been seen in humans before the outbreak reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019.   

Where has the virus spread?

Cases have been confirmed over 100 countries around the world and numbers are expected to continue to increase, including across Australia. 

What impact can large disease outbreaks like COVID-19 have on children?

We don’t know whether children are at higher or lower risk of contracting COVID-19 based on available data so far. But we do know children in affected communities will be impacted. They may be separated from their caregivers during quarantine or during admission to hospital which can make them very vulnerable. The education of millions of children is also being impacted due to school closures. We advocate that children's best interests are at the centre of every response.

How is Save the Children responding to the outbreak?

Our priority, as always, is the safety and wellbeing of the children and families who rely on our programs; the safety and wellbeing of our staff; and a commitment, wherever possible, to continue to deliver our services. We are monitoring the current situation in Australia, as well as talking to state governments, communities and partners. Our teams are doing everything we can to build plans to keep children and our staff protected and healthy.

Presently, our global health teams are participating in daily World Health Organisation (WHO) calls, building response scenarios and undertaking preparedness activities across many of our country offices, especially those with weakened health systems.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, which hosts more than a quarter of the world’s refugee population, cases are rapidly being confirmed across the majority of countries. Save the Children is calling on donors to strengthen support to health systems in East and Southern Africa to ensure that vital health services are not diverted from communities who are already battling deadly diseases and health issues such as malnutrition. 

Save the Children already runs major sanitation and hygiene programs across the globe and is working with health teams on the ground to roll out Covid-19 prevention messages like handwashing and self-isolation. These actions will ultimately support children's ability to prevent infection and resilience to overcome it if they become ill. 

In support of the global humanitarian community, Save the Children is also leading a global consortium aimed at strengthening capacity for responses to major infectious disease outbreaks or pandemics, which is called READY. READY is engaged in building potential response scenarios to the emerging COVID-19, and other major epidemics/pandemic-prone pathogens.

What is the impact of COVID-19 on Save the Children's programs?

We are an organisation that exists to support and provide services to vulnerable children and families. We need to continue to provide this support and service while ensuring the health and safety of our staff and their families. Save the Children is working to ensure that all our programs, particularly in those countries most at risk from the outbreak, are ready to respond. This includes making sure our health clinics have enough soap and hygiene supplies to prevent the spread of infection.

In Australia, with the increasing impact of COVID-19, we have paused delivery of services in some areas at the request of funding partners or authorities. As a result, we are looking at other ways to deliver services to vulnerable children and their families.  Our teams are also focused on making sure we provide the right health messages to the community to help them protect themselves from the virus and know when to seek help. 

What is Save the Children’s experience in responding to epidemics? 

Save the Children’s emergency health teams have played a key role in responding to major epidemics around the world, including a large-scale immunization campaign in response to the Yellow Fever outbreak in DRC, as well as cholera outbreaks in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Mozambique and DRC. Save the Children was at the heart of the response to the West Africa Ebola virus outbreaks in 2014 and 2018. Save the Children’s water, sanitation and hygiene programs across the globe continue to reduce diarrhoea and other diseases in children under five. 

How can I stay safe?

The virus can spread between humans, through droplets from coughing, sneezing or breathing. The virus may also be spread by contact with surfaces that have been contaminated.

The best way to avoid spread of COVID-19 is to keep good hand hygiene (wash your hands often with soap, or, if unavailable use alcohol rub), good cough etiquette (use tissues to cough/sneeze in and discard of the tissue properly, or cough/sneeze in a flexed elbow), safe food practices and avoiding close contact, when possible, with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing. If you do feel unwell, seek medical advice early.

How can social distancing help? 

The Australian Government is providing advice on how to reduce the spread of germs through social distancing. The Australian Government has advised that social distancing is important because COVID-19 is most likely to spread from person-to-person through: 

  • direct close contact with a person while they are infectious or in the 24 hours before their symptoms appeared 
  • close contact with a person with a confirmed infection who coughs or sneezes, or 
  • touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles or tables) contaminated from a cough or sneeze from a person with a confirmed infection, and then touching your mouth or face.  

So, the more space between you and others, the harder it is for the virus to spread.  

Where can I get more information?

You can keep up to date with the changing situation and find further information at the Department of Health website here . There is also a COVID-19 24-hour Health Information Line you can call on 1800 020 080.

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