Note: This is an overview of our COVID-19 response, updated as of April 13, 2020. Our activities are progressing on a daily basis in response to this rapidly evolving crisis.
Now more than ever, we are confronting the inescapable fact that our health as individuals is closely tied to the health of our neighbors and that of communities all over the world.
We are deeply grateful, in these unprecedented times, to be part of a community of thousands of health workers, partners, colleagues, and generous supporters that generates tremendous moral support and strength. We are also grateful to have a role model in Helen Keller, whose life epitomized the power of fierce optimism and community to triumph over seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Guided by her vision, our mission is to deliver life-changing health solutions where needs are great but access to care is limited. That mission is more relevant now than ever. We are thankful to our community for helping us rally every possible resource to serve those in greatest need in the face of this unprecedented, catastrophic threat.
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”Helen Keller
We know without a doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting people living in poverty the hardest. The impact of this crisis will be staggering in places with weak health systems that struggle even in the best of times with severe shortages of health workers and essential medicines.
We are deeply concerned about the spread of COVID-19 among the most vulnerable people that our programs serve: low-income families, malnourished children, pregnant women and nursing mothers who suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, elderly people, and people disabled or otherwise affected by neglected tropical diseases.
We are also acutely aware of the rising demand for trained health workers to respond on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis—and the urgent need for medical supplies and equipment.
Our top priorities are to safeguard our staff and the people we serve; to save lives through our existing health programs and partnerships; and to strengthen long-term resilience.
Rising to the challenge: What we’re doing now
Many of our existing programs build resilience of vulnerable households to withstand sudden shocks of disasters and emergencies and strengthen the capacity of local organizations and government structures to deliver essential health services.
We have already taken the following actions to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
- We have restricted all business travel to protect our staff. We have also postponed all global and regional meetings.
- We are sharing essential information on infection prevention and control with our global staff, and ensuring that our teams are practicing social distancing, and, where indicated, working from home.
- We have emergency preparedness plans in place each country where we work, as well as in our global offices in Dakar, Phnom Penh, Paris, Washington, D.C., and New York to expedite decisions and direct vital resources where they are most needed in our field offices.
- Wherever possible, we are continuing our life-saving programs to prevent and eliminate malnutrition, neglected tropical diseases, and avoidable vision loss among vulnerable people.
- In the US, where Helen Keller Intl works in schools, in shelter environments, and in refugee centers, we are following municipal, state, and federal guidelines. Our teams are exploring possible ways we may be able to work with local partners to help provide services while schools and facilities are closed and safely dispense eyeglasses to students who have already had vision screenings.
- In more than 40 districts across Nepal, with emergency funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), we are reaching out to communities via SMS, social media, and mass media to provide households with essential information they need to safeguard themselves from COVID-19.
- In places where there has been little to no documented transmission, under the guidance of government partners, we are supporting vitamin A supplementation for individual children at health clinics, where conditions allow. In most of our countries of operation, neglected tropical disease mass treatment campaigns have been temporarily suspended, per the recommendation of the World Health Organization.
On the horizon: Urgent priorities
For more than 100 years, Helen Keller International has been at the forefront in developing and scaling up effective approaches to reach vulnerable people, including those in emergency situations, with lifesaving interventions. Our long-term presence in countries and established partnerships with governments—especially Ministries of Health—position us for rapid joint response to COVID-19.
We know that our most effective action is to empower people by giving them access to essential care and services and, perhaps most importantly, the information they need.
We also know that partnership is vital. Helen Keller Intl is coordinating our response with the World Health Organization, UN agencies, and Ministries of Health in our countries of operation.
Our five most urgent priorities are to:
- Protect our on-the-ground staff and partners from infection.
- Support life-saving hygiene and sanitation interventions.
- Help communities prevent infection and contain the spread of the virus.
- Support public health systems and minimize disruption to essential services.
- Prevent malnutrition and food insecurity among children and vulnerable families.
With our vast international field presence, our robust local relationships, our networks of partners, and our frontline expertise in disease prevention and control, we are able to provide critical, timely support to the countries and communities in which we work.
How you can help
First and foremost, we urge everyone to please stay safe and follow guidelines from health authorities on how to protect yourself, your family, and your community from COVID-19. Social distancing is a critical part of these efforts; it will slow the epidemic and save lives.
Please consider a gift to Helen Keller Intl. Your support will help us sustain our lifesaving work and provide urgent assistance to the people most vulnerable to the potentially catastrophic impact of this crisis.
We share Helen Keller’s belief that, “The welfare of each is bound up in the welfare of all.”
The power of our community—especially the amazing generosity of our supporters—enables us to continue Helen’s work. Thank you for translating your compassion into action to take care of each other—and deliver lifelines to people in greatest need—during this crisis.