11 May 2020

COVID-19: How do you self-isolate in a refugee camp?


Over the last few months, we have seen how COVID-19 crossed administrative and national boundaries at the speed of fire—leaving nobody untouched. We believe that lessons learned from previous research investigating the relationships between disasters, social inequalities and how health determinants may exacerbate vulnerability will be key to overcoming the COVID-19 crisis. The reported mortality rate exceeded 200,000 this week, and the news headlines so far mainly describe ‘western’ end-of-life-stories of elderly or people with pre-existing health conditions. However, what will happen now that the pandemic has entered ultra-vulnerable places such as refugee camps and informal settlements in the global south?

Cox Bazar's Rohingya refugee camp
Cox Bazar's Rohingya refugee camp. Photo by Rebeca Sultana

‘Wash your hands, self-isolate, social distancing, please!’—but how do you self-isolate in a refugee camp?

Refugee camps and slums are socially constructed and often considered temporary ‘places’. However, some of these ‘temporary places’ have existed for decades and have housed several generations. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned these places into ticking bombs, waiting to explode, it is just a question of time. Infectious diseases will easily wreak havoc given the social and physical conditions. Building on our research experience around climate-induced health risks and migration, as well as urban immobility, and health in informal settlements, we want to draw urgent attention to some of the current living conditions and scenarios that we will need to safeguard around.

Read the full commentary by Emmanuel Raju and Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson in the latest edition of International Journal of Public Health.

Video: Millions of lives at risk if Covid-19 hits slums and refugee camps

Millions of lives are at risk if COVID-19 explodes in one of the world's urban slums or informal settlements. Associate Professor, Emmanuel Raju, explains the gravity of the situation in the below video.

Footage by Johan Mottelson