The lack of precise data on IDPs and limited testing capacity in many areas affected by crises have hampered assessments of how displaced people have been affected by the coronavirus, and how this compares with host communities and non-displaced people. Yet, while it is still early to draw conclusions, there is increasing evidence that IDPs are more vulnerable to Covid-19 than the general population.
Some of the challenges brought on by displacement, including overcrowded living conditions, poor nutrition and underlying and often untreated health conditions and diseases, would appear to heighten the risk not only of contracting Covid-19 but also suffering severe symptoms among IDPs of all ages.
Studies reveal higher mortality rates among IDPs than the general population, mostly the result of communicable diseases and mal or under-nutrition, which is particularly prevalent among young and older IDPs. Their reduced financial resources can also prevent them from seeking healthcare and buying protection, such as masks or alcohol-based hand rub. For example, more than 90 per cent of those surveyed in the city of Basra, Iraq, in 2019 said the price of consultations, medicines and treatment was prohibitively expensive.
At the same time, poor housing conditions mean IDPs may not be able to self-isolate, implement social-distancing or even access water and sanitation to follow instructions from health authorities. A study in the city of Kaya in Burkina Faso showed that because displaced households have less space per person, 87 per cent said they would be unable to isolate an ill member, compared with 64 per cent of non-displaced households.
Beyond the immediate health risk posed by Covid-19, the pandemic is also heightening the risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles. In DRC, which is home to the second highest number of displaced children under five, immunisation has declined significantly in 2020.
In addition, anxiety and social isolation that can result from lock-down measures can further affect IDPs mental health. Research has shown that IDPs are at higher risk of anxiety, depression and other forms of distress that can become exacerbated by the psychological impact of quarantine and the global health crisis.
The spread of Covid-19 in displacement camps and IDP settlements where health facilities are already insufficient, and conflict or disaster-affected countries with struggling health systems, is alarming and must be considered as a priority response to the pandemic.