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Supporting and Mobilizing Communities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Center and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent have been working together to curb the COVID-19 pandemic and complex related challenges in communities around the world, including a growing mental health crisis and increasing inequities among populations facing the highest risk.
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Creating a world with a thriving, well-supported and resilient health workforce, particularly focusing on those on the front lines of care, is a shared commitment for Johnson & Johnson and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC).

IFRC is the world’s largest humanitarian network that unites 192 Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, present in nearly every country of the world. As well as being first on the scene after a disaster, they remain active within affected communities long after the initial crisis. In this, they are aligned with Johnson & Johnson strategies that provide short-term solutions while keeping long-term goals in mind.

Since early 2020, Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation (the Center), with funding from Johnson & Johnson Foundation, has been supporting IFRC’s COVID-19 relief efforts, helping 900 million people in communities across the globe. Today, the surges in cases are being coupled with additional challenges, including a growing mental health crisis, and increasing inequities with the most vulnerable populations facing the highest risk. To address this complex set of problems, IFRC’s operational strategy has three core priorities: curbing the pandemic, addressing its socio-economic impact, and strengthening capacities of its National Societies to be strong local actors and to be able to deliver services in mental health, education and livelihoods support.

Mobilizing volunteers for community support

The pandemic highlighted the urgent need for a hyper-local approach to healthcare, led by frontline and community health workers. While most health systems have been centralized, IFRC’s hyperlocal model meant that they were well placed to respond quickly and effectively to needs on the ground. Together with health workers, the organization mobilized volunteers en masse to support with everything from transporting patients to hospital to countering loneliness.

In France, the French Red Cross mobilized 8,000 volunteers across the country to set up a new helpline, Red Cross at Home, which handled 184,000 calls. 1 in 5 orders placed via the helpline allowed someone to receive their medication at home during a lockdown, while 1 in 3 took food orders for free. Simultaneously, the ‘Hello, how are you?’ Red Cross helpline was run by 4,000 volunteers, who contacted 2,600 isolated people.

United Kingdom
In the UK, the British Red Cross worked on building resilient communities, particularly a new National Support Line which offered people emotional and practical advice and support. 80 volunteers answered calls from nearly 14,000 individuals, with 75% of callers experiencing feelings of anxiety and loneliness. This type of support is particularly vital as mental health needs are increasing; for this helpline alone, the number of callers with mental-health-related concerns rose from 12% to 33% between October to December 2020.

The Italian Red Cross mobilized 150,000 volunteers and 650 staff across the country to supply logistical support to health facilities, set up COVID-19 testing and screening, distribute vouchers and food aid and offer psychosocial services. The 24/7 toll-free number in the country received almost 27,000 requests for support, while their ‘Time for Kindness’ program delivered a monthly average of 8,063 food parcels and 333 food vouchers. The Italian Red Cross also worked to communicate vital health and hygiene information across social and traditional media.

Strengthening the response on the front lines of care

The insufficient number of frontline healthcare workers to meet the scale of the pandemic, as well as the initial global shortage of PPE, hospital beds and other vital medical supplies, has been well publicized. IFRC has been working with health authorities in various countries to recruit additional human resources, as well as to offer food aid and medical supplies where they are most needed.

In Spain, the Spanish Red Cross partnered with hospitals around the country to help them treat COVID-19 patients more efficiently and effectively, increasing capacity, covering sick leave and offering psychosocial support. Teams on the ground also supplied practical aid, such as launching and running a program for communicating urgent information to hospital residents and their families; setting up COVID-19 testing areas; and building additional intensive care units. In total, the Spanish Red Cross has offered almost 4,600 additional healthcare services related to COVID-19.

Vaccination centers have also been a core element in IFRC’s work tackling the pandemic. In France alone, 30,000 Red Cross volunteers have vaccinated 1.8 million people in 130 centers across the country. France also saw an increase of over 85% in people living on the streets during the first lockdown. In response, the French Red Cross opened 41 new accommodation centers, distributing 58,000 hygiene kits and increasing food distribution by 20%. They also supported and managed screening centers specifically for homeless people, raising awareness of barrier measures and informing people on the streets and in camps about the virus.

Tackling a mental health crisis

With population mental health worsening markedly during the pandemic, the J&J Foundation supported IFRC’s Psychosocial Centre, a hub dedicated to awareness raising, education and support around mental health struggles. Globally, the Psychosocial Centre has published more than 20 publications on topics such as Psychological First Aid for Children, Loss & Grief, and Suicide Prevention during COVID. These publications have had more than 28,000 downloads and have been translated into 18 languages.

The wide range of content also includes interviews, podcasts, educational videos, and self-care exercises, the latter of which were widely circulated across social media to reach those most in need.

The Psychosocial Centre is a vital resource at a time where healthcare workers globally have been bearing the brunt of the pandemic and are in urgent need of mental health support. Helping to ensure that frontline health workers are properly resourced, and provided with training, growth opportunities and emotional support, will be critical to create resilient health systems.

A vision of a healthier world

With many countries navigating surges in COVID-19 transmission—and a number of those doing so alongside complex crises and large-scale disasters—the Center and IFRC continue to work together to fill gaps in healthcare delivery across the world.

“As we move into the post-COVID era, there is much to learn from IFRC’s efforts,” says Marion Birnstill, Senior Manager, Global Community Impact EMEA, Johnson & Johnson. “The success of IFRC’s response to COVID-19 sheds light on the kind of health workforce we need to combat pandemics and other future health challenges.”