As we mark World Health Day, how has COVID-19 exacerbated disparities in healthcare globally, and how does the work of International Health Partners help to create a fairer world?

In 2021, one person in every 33 now needs humanitarian assistance (up from one in 45 in 2020). For the first time since the 1990s, extreme poverty is increasing, life expectancy is falling, and the annual death toll from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is set to double. The global pandemic, is having a devastating fall-out.

COVID-19 is not an equal opportunity virus, says Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz. “It goes after people in poor health and those whose daily lives expose them to greater contact with others.” Those living in camps for refugees and displaced people, for example, can’t easily wash hands frequently or maintain social distance.

In South Sudan, our in-country partner, International Medical Corps (IMC) is delivering health services to nearly half a million people including those at displacement camps in Juba, Malakal and Wau. Here, COVID-19 is exacerbating longstanding issues such as deteriorating infrastructure and erratic supplies of vaccines and medicines. Our donations have supported people including Jacob. 

COVID-19 has disrupted supply chains by shutting down international transport capacity. Other disruptions include new border controls and export restrictions, and national stockpiling of medicines. Among those most affected by disruptions are individuals in low-income countries living with chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes, for whom regular treatment is vital.

To build a healthier, fairer world, we are working hard to ensure that these patients continue to get the urgent help they need, and we want to do more. Colleen Harrisson-Dodds, our logistics director, says IHP has adapted its processes to make sure shipments of essential medicines arrive in the right place, at the right time. 

“A lot of our shipments go on passenger flights, and as countries shut borders, our options for airfreight diminished,” she explained. “Normally we would ‘pack, book, and go’ but in this environment, lateral thinking is important, and tight communication channels and transparency are key. We have to be quick to act, because what’s available one minute might not be the next.” 

Working closely with our in-country partner in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we overcame multiple issues to ensure a shipment of medicines and health supplies arrived at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. Founded by Dr Denis Mukwege, the hospital serves 500,000 people and specialises in treating the effects of gender-based violence. Since January, 12,500 individuals have been supported with essential medicines donated by our corporate partners. 

Will you help us to build a healthier world this World Health Day? For every £1 donated, we can send three treatments to help people who have very limited access to medicine.

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