The hope a coronavirus vaccine brings

28 April 2021

A girl washes her hands

A girl washes her hands in Afghanistan.

A year on from the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, vaccination programmes are bringing hope to the global south.

Maria Gonzalez, CAFOD's Head of International Development, and Matthew Carter, CAFOD's Head of Emergency Response, answered questions in a recent online panel discussion about how coronavirus has affected the global south over the last 12 months, and gave us their thoughts on the hope that has come from the vaccination programme.

How does the vaccine give hope?

“There’s a lot of hope in the vaccination at the moment,” says Maria Gonzalez. “We’re really hoping it will mitigate the effects of Covid. But that’s yet to be seen.

“I’d like to share a quote from Bishop Peter Kihara, the Bishop of Marsabit. He said: ‘It’s important for each one of us to reflect on how communities in remote and arid areas have no access to drinking water. How can they possibly wash their hands for 20 seconds every time during this Covid-19 pandemic?’

“It’s true! This enables us to put things into perspective. What it means to be the ‘Global North’, what it might mean to be in the ‘Global South’, and how Covid is impacting so differently. In the Rohingya refugee camps, the population density is around 40,000 people per square kilometre. In London, it’s less than 6,000 people. Social distancing is inconceivable.”

Donate to the Coronavirus Appeal

Covid-19 takes second place to more immediate danger

Sadly, for millions of people around the world, Covid-19 is just one more deadly problem on top of many others.

“Take Ethiopia, for example,” says Matthew Carter. “That’s a country we’ve been working in for over 50 years, a country we know well. You have Covid and then, over the last months, conflict flaring up in the north in Tigray, on the border with Eritrea.

“One of the main problems we’re facing is not being able to access the people in the communities there. We’re estimating at the moment that over 80 per cent of the population in that Tigray region are inaccessible. We cannot get to them to provide support or even speak with them to hear what their needs are. Sadly, the issue of Covid becomes second place. Our priority at the moment is ensuring we can get food aid to those communities.

“The numbers are colossal – 4.5 million people are in need in Tigray. We’re currently working with other agencies, the Church and the UN, targeting around 3.1 million people – those in urgent need of help. That response is ensuring that particularly vulnerable people are protected.”

“One of our biggest worries is hunger,” adds Maria. “We know that Covid is going to be pushing more than 130 million people to the brink of starvation. The pandemic, combined with ongoing conflicts, growing inequality and an escalating climate crisis, has shaken an already broken food system to its foundations. How are we going to cope with this reality?”

"The pandemic, combined with ongoing conflicts, growing inequality and an escalating climate crisis, has shaken an already broken food system to its foundations."

Maria Gonzalez, Head of International Development at CAFOD

The pandemic increases danger for women

We are providing food and hygiene kits to vulnerable indigenous Mayan families with a special focus on women, the elderly and children.

In Guatemala, vulnerable indigenous Mayan families are receiving food and hygiene kits - with a special focus on women, the elderly and children.

“According to the World Health Organization,” continues Maria, “women are leading the health response. That’s a fact. Today, women represent 70 per cent of the global social and healthcare workforce, exposing them to a greater risk of infection.

“We’ve also seen an absolutely huge rise in gender-based violence. In lockdown, abuse survivors suddenly found themselves shut in with their abusers. Job losses, escalating stress, anxiety about the future – it all leads to increased household tensions which turns many partners into abusers and exacerbates existing abuse.

“In Latin America, for example, more women have died due to gender-based violence while in quarantine than from coronavirus. Reports are revealing an increase in the global trafficking of women. Without the security provided by school, girls are more vulnerable to sexual violence and child marriage.

“Women and girls are also more vulnerable to malnutrition. They are often the first to cut down on food consumption as food becomes scarce. Many are forced to reduce their food consumption while pregnant. This can have long-term impact on the cognitive and physical development of children.”

“In Latin America, more women have died due to gender-based violence while in quarantine than from coronavirus."

Maria Gonzalez

Donate to the Coronavirus Appeal

How your money helps - the power of local experts

“Our partners are right in front of this – the front of the response,” says Matthew. “They know the communities, they live alongside them. But it’s still hugely complex how we juggle finite resources.

“That’s where CAFOD and the Church has so much to offer. Their ability to reach out and work alongside the most marginalised, those in real need, because they know their communities so well.

“Giving cash is becoming one of the best forms of aid across the world at the moment, because it reactivates everything else within a community. Whether it’s the hairdresser, the local shopkeeper, getting the kids to school so they have one meal a day – it pays the schoolteacher. All these things are interconnected. Putting a little bit of money into a system can really help. Families can access exactly what they urgently need.

“CAFOD is a relatively small organisation. It can move nimbly and quickly to where partners urgently need support. We’ve set up a fund which can respond to key frontline partners within 72 hours. Over the last year, we’ve allocated approximately £3 million across 27 countries. And that has been done with precision and speed.

“We might be transferring £1,000 to a small community - less than that in some cases - because that’s all they need. Or scaling up to something much larger – around £50,000. We have that range. We don’t just do big projects.

“A big part of our Covid response has been about health promotion or health awareness. One thing we funded was fuel for motorbikes so that people could drive out into the rural areas with megaphones and give public broadcasts on what people should do.

“We’re providing things like hygiene kits, central water points with soap, disinfectant, facemasks, PPE – a whole range of things. Critically, we listen to the communities themselves. Through our partners, we listen to the people on the frontline, listen to what they need, and try to use limited resources in the wisest and best way.”

"Putting a little bit of money into a system can really help. Families can access exactly what they urgently need."

Matthew Carter, Head of Emergency Response at CAFOD

Online talks

Maria and Matthew were speaking about CAFOD’s Covid-19 response in one of our series of online talks and presentations. Find out what talks are coming up soon

Donate to the Coronavirus Appeal

Back to top