Reducing the impact of COVID-19 among refugee and displaced populations

December 09, 2020

Displaced populations are at high risk of acquiring COVID-19 because they live in conditions that make it difficult to practice physical distancing, to self-isolate, or to access quality healthcare.

A Rohingya woman refugee, and a Balukhali settlement leader, stands among temporary shelters in this camp in Bangladesh.
Allison Joyce/UN Women

Eight research teams are working to generate evidence to reduce COVID-19 related health risks for refugee, displaced, and migrant populations during and after the pandemic. Research in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East is focusing on rapid responses and on building resilience and preparedness. The approaches benefit women and girls in particular, in addition to building bridges between humanitarian and development responses for maximum impact. The projects are also nurturing links between researchers, communities, and decision-makers to promote science-based, localized public health responses that minimize risks in the short and long terms.

The COVID-19 Initiative on the Health of Refugees and Vulnerable Populations aims to provide rapid access to evidence and guidance for countries with refugees and large displaced populations in an effort to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and prepare for future disease outbreaks. The research focuses on:

  • strengthening health system responses
  • documenting evidence on early response
  • promoting community-centered pandemic responses
  • digital health solutions
  • sexual and reproductive health and rights

The research is also shedding light on differentiated needs and supporting more inclusive, evidence-informed, and gender-equal responses to COVID-19 and a global recovery.

Projects under the COVID-19 Initiative on the Health of Refugees and Vulnerable Populations

Community approaches for improved health outcomes of urban refugees in Lebanon during the COVID-19 pandemic

To strengthen Lebanon’s public health response to COVID-19 and future health emergencies, the American University of Beirut is assessing the country’s actions and policies to develop an integrated community-centred approach that involves refugees and other vulnerable populations.

Effectiveness and scalability of innovative digital health solutions responding to the COVID-19 crisis among refugees and vulnerable populations

Focusing on at-risk populations in selected areas of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, the Aga Khan Development Network’s Digital Health Resource Centre explores the effectiveness of digital health solutions for early detection of COVID-19, teleconsultation, and mobile access to guidelines for health workers.

Exploring and learning from regional, national, and sub-national evidence, policy, and systems responses to COVID-19 in West Africa

A team that includes the Ghana Health Service, the Institute of Tropical Medicine – Antwerp, and the West African Health Organization is gathering evidence and experiences in health policy responses to COVID-19 in Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, and Senegal to learn across borders and generate evidence for better decision-making.

Health systems strengthening through preparedness in the COVID-19 health emergency for refugees and internally displaced persons in the West Bank

Researchers at Birzeit University aim to improve health system preparedness in the West Bank through an assessment of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on refugees and internally displaced persons and the health system’s ability to meet their needs.

Improving the health and empowerment of migrants, women, and children in Guatemala during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Centro de Estudios para la Equidad y Gobernanza en los Sistemas de Salud studies the effects of COVID-19 on the health of returning migrants, refugees, and host Indigenous communities in parts of rural Guatemala. The researchers will recommend strategies to address health needs, build trust in the health system, and support gender equality.

Managing impact of COVID-19 in Rohingya refugee camps and host communities with culturally appropriate technological solutions

BRAC University examines the health impacts of the pandemic in Rohingya refugee populations and their host communities in Bangladesh and the promise of digital tools for contact tracing and providing information on maternal and neonatal child health. The goal is to reduce transmission of COVID-19 and improve sexual and reproductive health.

Rectifying the effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations in West Africa: research-action

This research team, led by the West African Network of Emerging Leaders in Health Policy and Systems, in collaboration with the Ghana Health Service, uses rapid assessment, case studies, and action research to identify the full impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations and to develop innovative strategies to address their priority needs across West Africa.

Strengthening access to sexual and reproductive health services for internally displaced people during COVID-19 in Burkina Faso

Amidst growing conflict in Burkina Faso, researchers at the Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo, in collaboration with researchers at the Université du Québec en Outaouais, are identifying the sexual and reproductive health service needs of internally displaced adolescents and women in the context of COVID-19. Evidence on constraints and facilitating factors for using these services will strengthen responses to the current and future crises.

With an emphasis on evidence-based and locally relevant pandemic responses aimed at refugee and displaced populations, this initiative is building longer-term resilience and preparedness in health systems and among vulnerable populations in their host communities.