At IHP, we’re used to working with aid partners in countries whose healthcare systems are weak. In the UK, as COVID-19 is spreading, we’re beginning to see the resilience of our own health system being tested. Our supply chains are under pressure. So is the capacity of our healthcare workforce to give care to people who are very unwell.

With restrictions on exports, we’re even seeing shortages of ‘bathroom cabinet’ medicines such as paracetamol. For us, shortages are likely to be short-term. But just imagine if this situation became your ‘new normal’ – if, when your child had a fever you couldn’t bring down, there was absolutely nowhere you could get hold of Calpol. In many lower- and middle-income countries, this is a common problem. Parents and carers walk miles for help only to find the pharmacy shelves are empty. 

The countries we work in have fragile health systems. They will find it hard to use the kinds of measures employed in the UK and elsewhere to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. These systems have a chronic lack of medical personnel, and little capacity to absorb an additional caseload. Lifesaving equipment is scarce, as are vital medicines and supplies.

In places like Gaza already facing an acute humanitarian situation, or in countries like South Sudan where a large number of people are displaced and living in camps social distancing will be nearly impossible. When hundreds of people must share pumps and latrines, with water and soap in short supply, basic hygiene becomes a significant challenge.

As we face our own challenges, it’s not easy to keep looking outward to these fragile places. They’re not at the top of the world’s priority list at the moment. Please stand with us as we work with our partners to continue to source and distribute much-needed medicines to those who need our help.