The Lancet: The COVID-19 response for vulnerable people affected by conflict

David Nott writes for The Lancet:

Next year I will have worked full time in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) for 40 years. I seem to be a survivor not only from the political rollercoaster that various governments have enacted on the NHS, but also from volunteering my surgical skills in places affected by conflict and natural disasters for the past 25 years. The experiences of the patients I have served whose lives have been impacted by war, injustice, and inhumanity during this time have given me insight into what life is really about. Every person on this planet has a right to live and survive by whatever means possible. Having seen the adverse health impacts of conflict and humanitarian disaster on patients, I understand the mass movement of unprotected people from war to places of relative calm.

Many of the estimated 70·8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide live in insanitary and inhospitable conditions, sometimes up to six families living in one tent in a 3 m area. At a time when so many people are living under lockdown because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, it is important to highlight the dreadful conditions that displaced people endure, which I have personally witnessed in refugee camps throughout the world. Apart from difficult living conditions in these camps, many people share one latrine and washing facilities and hundreds queue for food every day. People tolerate such conditions because they want to live. They have been forced to live this way by inhumane acts in conflict and authoritarianism.

Many people in high-income countries might think that these humanitarian problems happen to other people far away and have little to do with them. At the start of this year with the first reports of a new virus in China, some people watched with casual nonchalance. Even when Joseph Wu and colleagues reported in late January that COVID-19 was going to become a global pandemic requiring substantial preparation, this warning received insufficient attention. Too many of us were lulled into a false sense of security by shrugging politicians. Looking back now, it is hard to understand from a scientific and epidemiological standpoint that there seemed to be no one with sufficient leverage to wave that red flag very early on.

Read the full article here.