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Adapting the global humanitarian response to COVID-19 to include older people

08 Jun 2020

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Credit: DEC/Barney Guiton

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing untold suffering and anxiety for older people across the world. One such person is Zafor Alam, 62, who lives in one of the sprawling camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. He normally makes 500 taka a day (US$6) selling tea and biscuits, but has not been able to earn a single taka since the lockdown started.

Zafor understands the importance of containing the spread of coronavirus in the overcrowded camps, but is facing an impossible choice between keeping himself safe and feeding his family.

Older people face a wide range of risks from coronavirus. The evidence is clear: rates of serious illness and death are highest among older people. Older people also face significant secondary impacts. Already high levels of income and food insecurity, poor access to health services and threat of violence and abuse among older people are likely to worsen due to COVID-19. They are also experiencing anxiety about the virus, as well as increased distress due to physical distancing measures. 

In humanitarian situations, the risk to older people is amplified due to long-standing barriers accessing information and humanitarian assistance. Older people may also be discriminated against in decisions regarding the allocation of scarce resources.

The Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) for COVID-19 May update identifies older people as one of the most affected and at-risk groups and emphasizes the need for action on older age inclusion to improve implementation of the three strategic priorities.

This action should be guided by priorities identified in the UN Secretary-General’s recent brief, “The Impact of COVID-19 on older persons”.

Organizations supporting older people are adapting approaches to ensure older people continue to have access to the services and support they need and that their dignity, well-being and voice are upheld in the response.

In Idleb, Syria, HelpAge International is working with SEMA to support local health structures and adapt home-based care approaches to ensure community-level care is available to older people at home, including those with COVID-19. With a potential decline in care and support because of movement restrictions, they are also supporting family caregivers with information about how to care for older people at home, including at the end of life.

Further information on supporting older people in humanitarian settings is available from HelpAge International and the Global Protection Cluster.

Additional information on how the humanitarian response is being adapted across global humanitarian operations to address the COVID-19 pandemic is available in a bi-monthly GHRP financial update.

For the latest figures on GHRP funding and other coordinated response plan funding, please visit the Financial Tracking Service (FTS).