Coronavirus impacts grow, aid blocked in Yemen, and U.K. aid reshuffle: This week in development

Nurses in protective gear talk to people in the reception area of a hospital in Hunan, China, which is under partial lockdown after the outbreak of a new coronavirus. Photo by: Thomas Peter / REUTERS

The impacts of COVID-19 spread beyond those who have been infected, the U.K. aid reshuffle unfolds, and the situation in Syria gets more dangerous for aid workers. This week in development:

While the U.K. Department for International Development has a new secretary of state — Anne-Marie Trevelyan — it emerged shortly after the announcement of her appointment that there would be some changes in the country’s development architecture. DFID’s junior ministerial team was quietly merged with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office as part of the government reshuffle. Development professionals had initially been relieved that DFID would retain its independence, but that feeling was short-lived with the news that all of the department’s junior ministers would be jointly working for FCO. A former senior DFID official said the move was “a clear statement of intent on the role development assistance is to play in foreign policy,” and insiders and analysts worried about the logistics of how such a setup would work.

The challenges for aid workers in Syria mount, with two Oxfam workers killed this week. Wissam Hazim, Oxfam’s southern hub staff safety officer, and Adel al-Halabi, a driver, were killed when their vehicle was attacked by an armed group in southern Syria. Moutaz Adham, Oxfam Syria country director, said the organization was devastated by the loss and condemned the attack. “It is essential that aid workers are able to get lifesaving assistance to civilians without being attacked themselves,” he said.

In Idlib province, aid workers have been left homeless as violence continues. Nearly one-third of Ihsan Relief and Development’s 1,000 workers have been displaced in recent months, but there is nowhere for them to go since civilians have filled available apartments and shelters, according to news reports.

The impact of the novel coronavirus — or COVID-19 — is taking its toll on China’s health care system. A UNAIDS survey found that nearly one-third of HIV-positive respondents in China said lockdowns and restrictions on movement meant they were at risk of running out of treatment in the coming days. “People living with HIV must continue to get the HIV medicines they need to keep them alive,” said Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS executive director. The agency’s China office is working to reach those at risk.

With the death toll from the virus passing 2,000 people, other reports have emerged of cancer patients and pregnant women in distress being turned down by hospitals and unable to access care.

Five African countries became the first to license a highly effective Ebola vaccine, as the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo rumbles on. In Congo, Burundi, Ghana, Zambia, and Guinea, the vaccine can now be administered without being subject to clinical trial or research protocols. Several other countries are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks. The approvals come just three months after the World Health Organization declared that the rVSV-ZEBOV-GP vaccine met quality, safety, and efficiency standards, following the agency’s fastest-ever prequalification process.

In Yemen, the United Nations’ aid programs are being disrupted by Houthi rebels, who have blocked delivery in a bid to gain control over humanitarian efforts. Granting access to certain areas has been limited, with more than 2 million beneficiaries directly affected, according to a report by The Associated Press. The Houthis want greater influence over who receives aid and have been pushing back against the U.N.’s efforts to more closely monitor how aid dollars — particularly those going to government institutions that are controlled mostly by the rebel group — are spent in the country, according to the report.

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.