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How International Aid Groups Are Affected By COVID-19

March 31, 2020
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, many organizations that provide aid to those in need have been forced to limit their humanitarian efforts. 


Among the aid groups whose operations have been affected by the virus are Relief International, Mercy Corps, Norwegian Refugee Council, Catholic Relief Services, CARE, and Save the Children. The groups have halted all “noncritical missions” in order to curb their exposure to COVID-19 and have issued travel restrictions for members.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak has become so dynamic, leaders of these groups are working quickly to change their travel policies to ensure group members are safe from the virus, while at the same time continuing to provide their services to the poverty-stricken.


The Norwegian Refugee Council temporarily closed its headquarters in Oslo, Norway, and is restricting international travel, but they ramped up aid efforts in countries with limited access to healthcare such as Afghanistan. The NRC is currently helping provide impoverished Afghanis with clean water and other health services. 

“Hopefully it will not impact the work we are doing in the field with refugees and IDPs [internally displaced people] as much. But as time goes by, it is also restricting training and global seminars where we are supposed to have strategies develop. It is the long-term work that could be affected on a global level,” said Tuva Bogsnes of the Norwegian Refugee Council, in a statement.

Various U.N. agencies have also been forced to adapt. The U.N.’s World Food Programme has restricted all international travel and rescheduled all seminars, workshops, and other meetings, while staff of the United Nations Development Programme is working remotely to “reduce the footprint in our offices and mitigate the risk for all involved,” says Angelique Crumbly, director of the UNDP Bureau for Management Services.

Likewise, a number of other aid organizations have developed new strategies to prevent members becoming infected with COVID-19. Plan International has suspended all “noncritical international travel and activities” since March 31, while Mercy Corps is not allowing employees to travel at all, following the Department of State’s Global Level 4 Health Advisory.


Relief International is “constantly reviewing risk levels and authorizing travel on a case-by-case basis,” according to director Azadeh Hasani, although the organization is still providing healthcare equipment to hospitals in Iran. And Catholic Relief Services is only allowing staff to travel for “mission-critical” work. 

We should all admire the efforts of international aid groups during these difficult times. Although most organizations are operating on a limited scale, they are still finding ways to help those in need. The humanitarian work being done by these groups helps soften the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and supports the people affected most by it.

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