Coronavirus: how Dubai’s humanitarian groups are responding to the challenge

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Humanitarian organisations are feeling the pressure like never before as they try to help millions of people whose lives have turned topsy-turvy because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

In the UAE, several humanitarians are working towards providing relief to people who have lost their jobs, cannot afford medical treatments or an education.

However, these charities are also experiencing their own set of challenges as they continue working amid a pandemic.

The National has spoken with three Dubai-based humanitarian organisations that are playing crucial roles in the ongoing situation.

They fall under the umbrella of the Global Initiatives, a Dubai government project that focuses on helping different segments of society.

An unprecedented rise in foreign aid demand

As the world’s largest humanitarian logistics hub, the Dubai-based International Humanitarian City (IHC) facilitates the first response to a crisis at a global level.

Since the beginning of the year, IHC has dispatched more than 365 shipments to more than 100 different countries around the world.

A total of 278 shipments were sent to deal with Covid-19 cases, majority of which were carried out by the World Health Organisation Dubai outreach.

“When the emergency started, IHC members had some of their stock items ready,” said Bouran Najem, head of the operations department.

“The simple reason behind that are the lessons learnt from Ebola, Sars and other previous emergencies which recommended and suggested prioritising personal protective equipment and other similar protective items.

“This enabled response to the very first wave of demands in late 2019.”

Bouran Najem, head of the operations department at International Humanitarian City, at a warehouse packed with relief aid at the International Humanitarian City. Courtesy: IHC 
Bouran Najem, head of the operations department at International Humanitarian City, at a warehouse packed with relief aid at the International Humanitarian City. Courtesy: IHC 

Since the beginning of the year, IHC has seen an increase in shipments of about 30 per cent as compared to the same time last year.

They have also seen a 45 per cent increase in the number of current IHC members.

With an increase in demand, they were faced with challenges like the suspension of passenger flights and the need for more storage space.

IHC created a kitting centre and a cold-chain composed of multiple refrigerated cells to be better prepared in terms of storage space.

“The challenges on the supply chain is a consequence of the passengers aircrafts grounded and the limited capacity of the cargo companies,” said Ms Najem.

IHC opted for charter flights to meet the high demand.

Sponsoring urgent medical treatments

Al Jalila Foundation helps UAE residents who cannot afford treatments for life-threatening illnesses.

With a large number of people facing unemployment and salary cuts due to the Covid-19 impact, many of them no longer had the means to pay for their treatments. This is where Al Jalila stepped in.

From the start of the year to May 21, they have supported the treatment of 100 people, including 60 children, with medical bills reaching Dh7million.

Ayesha Shahdad, head of Al Jalila’s patient treatment programme A’awen, shared a case study of a 35-year-old Nigerian expat who needed urgent kidney dialysis but could not afford it.

Ayesha Shahdad with a child patient who received treatment sponsored by Al Jalila Foundation. Courtesy: Al Jalila 
Ayesha Shahdad with a child patient who received treatment sponsored by Al Jalila Foundation. Courtesy: Al Jalila 

“She used to be fine financially because her husband was employed and he, along with some family and friends, were paying for her treatment,” she said.

“This year, her husband’s company temporarily closed because it was located in Al Ras, which was the area that was put into lockdown by authorities for the sterilisation programme.”

With no income or other means to pay for her dialysis, Al Jalila stepped forward.

Ms Shahdad said they have received 500 applications since the beginning of the year, which is a significant increase from previous years.

Many patients have listed financial struggles caused by the pandemic as a reason they cannot afford treatments.

Helping blue-collar workers during Ramadan

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment (MBRCH) stepped in to help low-income workers in the UAE during the pandemic.

The organisation has assisted 16,250 workers since the start of the outbreak in the country.

Mohammed Ahmed Alhammadi, executive of relief and foreign aid at MBRCH, said they had distributed 379,250 meals to 15,150 workers by the end of Ramadan.

However, there were challenges that the volunteers and officers faced as they tried to help thousands who were in need.

“We faced challenges as the crowds of workers pushed through once the food arrived, which compromised the safety guidelines and rules of social distancing to avoid the spread of the virus,” said Mr Alhammadi.

MBRCH has distributed food packets to 15,150 workers in the UAE until the end of the holy month. Courtesy: MBRCH
MBRCH has distributed food packets to 15,150 workers in the UAE until the end of the holy month. Courtesy: MBRCH

“However, with proper management, supervision, coordination and awareness, we were able to facilitate an effective food distribution process at the camps.”

He said another challenge was to ensure that meals and food supplies catered to different tastes and cultures of the workers.

MBRCH also provided protective gear to enable social distancing at labour accommodations and distributed blankets and pillows that benefited more than 500 workers.

“Through providing assistance, we aim to alleviate the suffering of those most affected by the Covid-19 outbreak,” said Mr Alhammadi.

“We seek to reduce the pandemic’s negative social and economic repercussions on the most vulnerable segments of the society by safeguarding their lives and easing their financial burden, especially among workers who are most in need of support at this time.”

MBRCH’s post-Ramadan plan will focus on supporting medical efforts and frontline workers in the country, as well as providing all types of necessary aid to low-income individuals and families.

Updated: May 24, 2020 05:01 PM

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