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COVID-19: IASC issues interim guidance for camp operations and addressing mental health and psychosocial support

18 Mar 2020

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The millions of people worldwide caught in humanitarian crises, and particularly those who are displaced or living in camps, face specific challenges and vulnerabilities that must be considered in readiness and response operations for the COVID-19 outbreak, guidance issued today by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) stressed.

Chaired by Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) Mark Lowcock, the IASC is the highest-level humanitarian coordination forum of the UN system. The reports published today provide interim guidance on camp operations and addressing mental health and psychosocial support.

The Interim Guidance on Scaling-up COVID-19 Outbreak in Readiness and Response Operations in Humanitarian Situations, Including Camps and Camp-Like Settings – jointly developed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the World Health Organization (WHO) – underlines that people affected by humanitarian crisis are frequently neglected, stigmatized, and may face difficulties in accessing health services that are otherwise available to the general population. These may include internally displaced people, host communities, asylum seekers, refugees and returnees, and migrants. 

The guidance is specifically intended for field coordinators, camp managers and public health personnel, as well as national and local governments and the wider humanitarian community working in humanitarian situations, including camps and camp-like settings, who are involved in implementing COVID-19 outbreak readiness and response activities.

The Interim Briefing Note on Addressing Mental Health and Psychosocial Aspects of COVID-19 Outbreak – developed by the IASC’s Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support – includes overarching principles for a mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) response to COVID-19. Among them are an understanding of the wider context within communities; having MHPSS as a core component of any public health response; emphasizing coordination; mapping existing MHPSS expertise and structures in each region; and building on local care structures. 

As part of globally recommended activities for an MHPSS response, the briefing note includes suggestions for interventions under different circumstances during the COVID-19 outbreak, including: helping older adults cope with stress; supporting the needs of people with disabilities; messages and activities for helping children deal with stress; MHPSS activities for adults in isolation or quarantine; supporting people working in the COVID-19 response; and community MHPSS messages.

The two interim guidance documents are aligned with the WHO Strategic Response and Preparedness Plan (SRRP) that outlines the public health measures necessary to respond to COVID-19. The plan calls for US$675 million and for funds to be disbursed to countries and partners as required. Discussions for a global humanitarian response plan that would complement the SRRP are ongoing.

The IASC brings together the executive heads of 18 UN and non-UN organizations to ensure coherence of preparedness and response efforts, formulate policy, and agree on priorities for strengthened humanitarian action. The IASC Principals, supported by the Emergency Directors Group, are meeting on a regular basis to assess the situation regarding COVID-19 and determine necessary actions.