FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Relations Manager
Catholic Relief Services
(443) 955- 7125
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND, March 3, 2020 – Amid the fast-moving, worldwide outbreak of COVID-19, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is ramping up its global public health programming to prevent and mitigate the spread of the deadly virus while at the same time taking proactive measures to protect the safety of its staff, which are spread across more than 110 countries.
“We are doing everything possible to leverage our vast global footprint to prevent and mitigate the spread of the virus and its impact,” said Sean Callahan, CRS’ president and CEO. “In addition, we are making changes to our business operations so that we can continue to function efficiently while also making sure we are able to serve those most in need.”
CRS is taking measures to safeguard its staff by restricting all but the most mission-critical travel, with contingency operational plans in place should the disease take hold in any of the countries where the organization operates. For instance, in Cambodia, CRS is piloting a work-from-home arrangement, with the aim of replicating continuity plans elsewhere if needed. In addition, CRS is encouraging all staff to continue good hygiene practices, like diligent handwashing.
“We are monitoring the virus outbreak very closely and are taking all possible precautions to keep staff healthy,” said Marieke van Weerden, CRS’ director of safety and security. “Our staff are some of the most dedicated people in the world, and if we keep them healthy, then they will be able to go out and help others.”
At the same time, CRS is gearing up its response in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Nigeria. Activities will include risk awareness and hygiene education campaigns, as well as the distribution of hygiene supplies like soap. In Afghanistan, where CRS had to suspend its education programs for children in camps, CRS is working with local health agencies to educate those families on preventing infection, and at distributing 60,000 bars of soap.
CRS has decades of experience with virus prevention and mitigation. For example, CRS and its partners played a critical role during the 2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, running massive public awareness campaigns and working with religious and local leaders to prevent the spread of misinformation.
“CRS is an international leader among NGOs with experience fighting fast-moving disease outbreaks. Our partners are embedded in some of the most vulnerable and remote communities. They have exceptional reach. As we ramp up our response worldwide, we’ll be leaning into that experience," Callahan said.
“CRS, as well as the Catholic Church in the United States, stands in solidarity with all of those affected by the coronavirus. Wherever CRS has a presence, we will be doing our best to stop the spread of this dangerous disease."
QUOTES ON CORONAVIRUS FROM CRS REGIONAL SPOKESPEOPLE:
“While we know the coronavirus can be contained as long as robust action is taken, countries in West Africa are still highly vulnerable. In Nigeria, where there has already been a confirmed case of the virus, we are taking prevention protocols very seriously. The government frequently deals with outbreaks of diseases like Lassa fever, measles, meningitis and polio. A coronavirus outbreak will add additional pressure to the country’s health infrastructure. Fully aligning to the government of Nigeria’s protocols and directives, we’re putting a plan in place to help contain the overall spread of the virus in support of government actions.”
- Dr. Emeka Anoje, public health expert, Nigeria
“The refugee, displaced and war-affected populations we serve throughout this region have endured years of hardship and particularly vulnerable to any new threat such as this virus, so CRS is working with local authorities, partner agencies and local communities throughout the region to support prevention efforts aimed at improving hygiene, awareness and knowledge of the disease.”
- Kevin Hartigan, Regional Director - Middle East and Europe
“In Asia, governments are not yet reporting sustained community transmission of the coronavirus. That could change any day and we are carefully monitoring developments. We have made different levels of contingency plans for our critical work and are ready to support community-based health messaging as requested by our government partners.”
- Marc D’Silva, Regional Director - East and South Asia
“Given the fluidity of the spread of coronavirus, we’re remaining highly vigilant across West Africa. We’re in close contact with our Church, government and civil society partners, and any response we undertake will be in support of local and national governments. CRS and our partners played an important role in mitigating the spread of Ebola in 2015 and we are well positioned to educate communities with accurate information about prevention and to assist public health departments to reduce transmission.”
- Jennifer Overton, Regional Director - West Africa
Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding. For more information, visit www.crs.org or www.crsespanol.org and follow Catholic Relief Services on social media in English at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube; and in Spanish at: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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