ZOA's COVID-19 response worldwide

The COVID-19 virus is holding the world in its grip. The complexity and consequences of the pandemic are even greater in the crisis-areas where ZOA works. Countries where hygiene is poor, with minimal health care and a very limited number of hospital beds. ZOA is also present in overcrowded refugee camps where keeping distance is not an option. Support is needed more than ever. We respond, even when restrictive measures make our work difficult. A short overview of the situation in the countries where we work.

Update: 9th of November


Due to the ongoing conflicts, Afghanistan’s health care system is underdeveloped and poorly available throughout the country. In Afghanistan, the number of infected people is rising rapidly. On the 9th of November there have been 42.159 confirmed COVID-19 cases of which 1.562 people have died. The test capacity in Afghanistan is low and consequently a lot of the infections are not registered. From the beginning of October there is no longer a lockdown. It is hard for the population to keep the preventive measures.

Most of ZOA’s projects in Afghanistan can continue in a modified form. In all projects there is ongoing COVID-19 awareness raising. Besides, the ZOA team in Afghanistan launched a COVID-19 awareness-raising campaign for women in self-help groups and other vulnerable women. The women in the project area are often not aware of the risks and dangers of the COVID-19 virus because they do not have access to the media. The campaign was started to educate poor families about the global pandemic. The campaign consists of distributing information using brochures and awareness-raising, disinfecting houses, and distributing COVID-19 kits (including soap for washing hands and laundry, sanitary towels and masks). The self-help group members also discuss COVID-19 issues with the assistance of an illustrated COVID-19 guide for children. In addition, the ZOA team started a project in Afghanistan to distribute food to Internal Displaced People affected by COVID-19.


In Burundi there were 614 confirmed COVID-19 cases on the 9th of November. In total 1 death was reported. It became easier to get tested however the system is still based on self-reporting, and not so much on contact tracing. Asymptomatic people will not be tested. The promotion of preventive measures is limited in Burundi and mass gathering do continue (churches, markets, schools etc.).

The economic consequences of the COVID-19 becomes clear in Burundi. The borders with Rwanda and DR Congo remain closed. Traders struggle to survive and due to the decreased demand, prices of different goods have dropped significantly, and traders are not able to make profit.

The implementation of the ZOA projects continues, combined with a message about measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Appropriate security measures are being taken. For example, activities with over five people together are being stopped. Everyone needs to take the 2-meter distance into account. Each activity with beneficiaries starts with awareness raising on COVID-19.


On the 9th of November there are 5.379 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Congo. In total 92 people died due to the virus. Vulnerable groups are the elderly, people with disabilities, displaced persons, refugees and people with low incomes, living in overpopulated areas. The government has taken several preventive measures. In late July, the government lifted some of the measures related to COVID-19 to gradually stimulate economic activity. For example, banks, stores, restaurants and pubs have reopened. Schools and universities reopened as well in August. Airports, stadiums and places of worship also reopened in mid-August. In hospitals and offices, masks must be worn and hands must be disinfected. As of the beginning of September travel is allowed again under the condition before departure a COVID-19 test is done.

The implementation of activities continues in Congo. In the projects COVID-19 measures are implemented. Within the current projects, actions are taken to explain COVID-19 and the necessary prevention measures.


In Colombia there have been 1.136.447 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 32.595 deaths on the 9th of November. Health officials have warned of the impact that COVID-19 may have on the many vulnerable migrants from Venezuela currently in the country. Colombia is home to 1.8 million refugees and undocumented migrants. These people often do not have access to basic services such as health care, WASH and food. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, refugees and migrants have become even more vulnerable. Refugees risk the change of being accused of further spreading the virus (OCHA, 2020). Since the lockdown in Colombia many Venezuelan refugees have returned to Venezuela.

In Colombia, ZOA is working to respond to the great need created by the COVID-19 pandemic. ZOA has started a multi-purpose voucher program from the beginning of May to provide food and other essential items for 5.125 people per month. This enables 800 families to stay safely at home. The multi-purpose voucher program is being complemented by the installation of 1.500 household handwashing stations. These will be placed in a migrant settlement and distributed to the 800 families who receive monthly vouchers. In addition, 1.500 food parcels were distributed at the end of May.


The total number of infected people reached 99.204 on the 9th of November. A total of 1.518 people died due to COVID-19 in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia there is due to COVID-19 a state of emergency. At the end of July some COVID-19 related government-imposed restrictions were eased, allowing intra end inter regional movements. ZOA is now able to operate without restrictions, respecting the mandatory use of masks, hygienic measures, and social distancing in their activities.

All ZOA offices have a hand washing stations at the gate of the office and all vehicles are disinfected regularly throughout the day. Within each program area, the ZOA teams are in close contact with the local government officials and other (I)NGOs to share information and follow-up on the safety measures that have been put in place. Only a few team members are coming to the office. Other team members are working from home. When people come to the office, they respect the mandatory use of masks, hygienic measures, and social distancing in their activities in the office.

Some of the ZOA projects in Ethiopia are adjusted to the COVID-19 situations. The teams in Ethiopia have among others done the following COVID-19 related activities since the pandemic: 75.239 individuals received information about the prevention of COVID-19, 6.920 individuals were supported with hygiene kits, 160 handwashing stations are constructed or repaired at public places, 8 health facilities are supported with COVID-19 required materials and/or trainings, 2.304 individuals received food support and 2.575 farmers received support to produce more and better crops.


The Iraqi health system is severely underfunded and unsuitable for dealing with a large-scale medical emergency. The Ministry of Health estimates that 20.000 doctors have left since the 1990s, leaving few qualified health personnel, even in normal times.

On the 9th of November there are 498.549 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iraq. In total 11.327 people have died due to COVID-19.

ZOA has been distributing food parcels to families who currently no longer have an income due to COVID-19. Besides, in camps, we distributed hygiene boxes with soap and other useful products and we provide information on how to prevent contamination.


Liberia is still recovering from the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak and its negative consequences at the economic, political and social level. The country is currently relatively stable but experiences lack of basic services, widespread poverty, low mutual trust, corruption and recent anti-government protests.

On the 9th of November, there were 1.442 confirmed COVID-19 infections in Liberia and 82 people died as a result of the virus. The number of available tests in Liberia is relatively low. The number of people with serious symptoms is also relatively low. In public buildings there are hand washing facilities, a mask must be worn, and the body temperature is checked upon entry.


Access to health care in Myanmar is limited and doctors are seriously concerned about the availability of the necessary medical and protective equipment. Incidents of local transmission have been climbing since August 2020. On the 9th of November 61.337 people are infected, and 1.420 people have died due to COVID-19. From the first days of the pandemic, the knock-on impacts of the virus have been considerable. Community-wide lockdowns, widespread quarantining, curfews, international border closures for goods and people, and domestic travel restrictions have led to increased unemployment, income and food insecurity, gender-based violence, needs-based petty theft and social anxieties across Myanmar.

In Myanmar various COVID-19 activities are implemented. In the project in Kayin state, 1.500 hygiene kits for 7.500 people are distributed to prevent the spread of corona. 3.367 vinyl posters and 2.760 brochures with information about COVID-19 in the local language have been distributed. Besides, there are 6.730 masks distributed to 1.346 households in 32 villages. There are also 610 masks distributed to schools and community centers. Also, two quarantine centers were supported with materials and training on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Besides, 300 hygiene kits are distributed to students so that they can come back to school with preventive measures in place.


In Nigeria, several factors are contributing to the spread of disease; high population density in urban areas, lack of access to safe water, inadequate sanitation, a poorly functioning health system, inadequate information and preventive measures and traditional practices. These factors especially play a role in conflict areas. The government of Nigeria has introduced severe restrictions to slow down the spread of the virus as much as possible. On the 9th of November there are 63.790 confirmed COVID-19 cases. In total 1.156 people have died due to the consequences of COVID-19.

Part of the ZOA team in Nigeria works from home. Permission has to be requested from the government to continue the work in the field. Due to various adjustments, most of the activities can continue. All staff members of ZOA are being informed about COVID-19 and how they can best implement the prevention measures. ZOA has a lot of experience in Nigeria with infectious diseases such as cholera and now uses this knowledge and expertise as effectively as possible to combat COVID-19.

South Sudan

The main risks for the South Sudanese population concerning COVID-19 are related to population density in camps or urban environments, lack of awareness, poor health and nutritional status, inadequate sanitation and inadequate humanitarian aid (OCHA, 2020). In South Sudan the test capacity is very low. Till the 9th of November 2.943 COVID-19 cases are confirmed of which 59 people have died. Restrictions at crossing the borders have eased somewhat, this allows for NGO staff to travel to neighboring Uganda.

The team in South Sudan tries to carry out its work as much as possible including COVID-19 response. For example, during a distribution in Pibor, communication relating to COVID-19 was spread. In Yei, during training in small groups, also, awareness-raising was done. The team raises awareness on how to deal with people who get infected, and how to prevent stigmatization. Moreover, WHO information cards on COVID-19 are being distributed. Due to the worst flooding since at least 50 years, travelling to project locations is very difficult. However, most of the COVID-19 response activities have been completed.

Sri Lanka

Since the beginning of August Sri Lanka is back to the normal situation. The government has lifted all restrictions but advised to keep recommended safety measures. Such as, hand washing, face mask and maintaining physical distance. All public transports are back in service and schools are opened again. On the 9th of November there have been 13.929 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 35 deaths. As per government information, spread of COVID-19 is under control and there are not many cases identified on daily basis.

Most ZOA employees can work in the office. Adequate protective measures are taken both in the office and in the field in order to continue the work in a safe manner. As a result of ZOAs work 1.100 refugees have received a food ration package; more than 11.500 seed packages have been distributed to promote home gardening; 1.084 vulnerable families have received cash vouchers through Cash for Work; 160 fisherman have received fish nets to start the seasonal fishing without delay; psychosocial support has been provided to women who are victims of domestic violence; 1.047 hairdressers have received hygiene education; 600 hygiene kits have been distributed; had washing systems are developed in 16 school and more than 4.000 students will be benefitting when schools are reopened and information has been provided on COVID-19 prevention measures and government guidelines.


In Sudan, 2.1 million people are displaced. Many people live in camps. Also, 1.1 million refugees live in overpopulated areas, which increases the risk of spread. Besides the COVID-19 virus, Sudan is vulnerable to other outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, malaria and measles. On the 9th of November there were 14.155  confirmed COVID-19 cases in Sudan. In total 1.1167 people died due to COVID-19. The ZOA team in Sudan is also affected by the COVID-19 virus. The team is still allowed to work in the office, but the number of people present is limited. The different project in Sudan are adjusted to the COVID-situation.


On the 9th of November there were 6.215 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 317 deaths. With very little testing, the numbers are likely much higher in the general population than has been reported.

Most land borders into Syria remain closed, with some limited exemptions, including commercial and relief shipments, and movements of humanitarian and international organization personnel. Daily curfew remains lifted, as has the travel ban between and within governorates. Markets, restaurants, cafes, gyms, parks, theaters, cinemas and most leisure facilities remain open, with mandated precautionary measures. Mosques and churches are open, with physical distancing requirements. Public and private transportation services have resumed, as have schools, universities and institutions.

For most of the past year, Syria’s economy has experienced an unprecedented downturn that has had profound impacts on the welfare of a significant proportion of the population. While these economic hardships have not been primarily driven by COVID-19, the pre-existing and underlying fragility of the Syrian economy – in addition to multiple shocks over the span of the past 12 months – has meant that COVID-19 related factors has had a disproportionate negative socio-economic effect across the country.

All project activities are on-going following the lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions by the government. Nevetheless, some needs assessments and verifications are being carried out over the phone as local authorities insist on limited household visit. ZOA staff are working in shifts to allow for social distancing in the office. Personal Protection Equipment is available in the office and each member of staff has hand sanitizer for frequent use. COVID-19 awareness rising is ongoing in the different projects.


In Uganda there have been 14.066 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 131 people died due to COVID-19 on the 9th of November. At the end of July COVID-19 restrictions are lifted a little bit but schools in Uganda remain closed till further notice. In this regards, ZOA Uganda has focused on home schooling via the radio and on support to small group learning at home. Besides, ZOA Uganda has done a three-month intervention focusing on hygiene and awareness raising.


In Yemen, 80% of the population needs humanitarian aid and only 50% of the health facilities are fully operational. This makes the population of Yemen very vulnerable to widespread disease. IDPs living in crowded informal camps are particularly vulnerable. There are currently 3.6 million IDPs living in Yemen. On the 9th of November there were 2.070 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Yemen. 602 people have died due to COVID-19. Since September staff is working again from the office. In the current projects the activities continue as normal with adaptions to COVID-19. As for example social distancing during distributions, hygiene promotion through media/SMS communication and cars with speakerphones. Project activities in which many people have to come together are being postponed. Various of ZOA’s activities are being carried out in such a way that awareness of COVID-19 is being taken into account. There is also a COVID-19 response in Yemen. As for example awareness sessions and training sessions regarding COVID-19 are being organized.

Click here for a timeline of ZOA’s emergency response.