With COVID-19 impacting 193 countries around the world, the United Nations has developed a large-scale response across its various agencies to combat the crisis. We’ve also seen the UN step up to help its host city of New York during their critical time of need.

As Secretary-General Guterres stated, “COVID-19 is the greatest test” since World War II; “it is more than a health crisis. It is a human crisis.”

The UN chief has released an updated plan to counter COVID-19, which emphasizes the need for countries to act in concert and outlines ways to suppress transmission of the virus, safeguard people’s lives and their livelihoods, and learn from the crisis to build back. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) – the global coordinating authority on the UN’s response – and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) organized a humanitarian appeal for the most vulnerable countries, bringing together existing appeals from UN partners, as well as identifying new needs.

Provided below is a snapshot of UN efforts overseas to combat COVID-19. (As of May 19, 2020).

For further background, the United Nations has also developed a resource to monitor the latest updates.


UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

  • UNHCR and partner organizations have further intensified their COVID-19 response in the Rohingya refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh, following the first confirmed case of COVID-19 among the refugee population on May 14. Since March, UNHCR and partners have been supporting the government of Bangladesh in COVID-19 preparation and prevention efforts. These efforts have included increased hygiene promotion and availability of handwashing stations, social distancing measures at all distribution points, the establishment of Isolation and Treatment Centers in new and preexisting health facilities, and constant communication on how people can protect themselves and their families, how to recognize symptoms of the virus and how to seek care. With this first confirmed case, response mechanisms have now been activated and will require additional international support.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

  • OHCHR’s advocacy to various governments to increase prisoner releases to combat the spread of COVID-19 has contributed to positive results in several countries in the MENA region. In the last week, in Egypt, 4,011 prisoners were released, and in Lebanon, 10% of the prison population was released. The Iraq government has also taken measures to alleviate overcrowding in prisons, and in Iran, a number of prisoners of conscience have been freed, as well as extensions granted for prisoners on temporary release.
  • In Georgia, OHCHR has provided training to 50 defence lawyers, better equipping them to deal with legal aspects of state of emergency provisions.
  • In Senegal, some 1,287 Talibés children who have been living on the streets have been returned to their families, including 151 in the last week. OHCHR provided support with the distribution of reintegration kits, consisting of sanitary products, mosquito nets, and bedding material.

World Food Programme (WFP)

  • WFP is equipping more than 55,000 people in six crowded refugee camps in Turkey with personal hygiene kits, a critical first line of defense. The kits, supported by Norway and the United States, include disposable masks, hand sanitizer, bleach, wet wipes, paper towels, surface cleaner, laundry detergent, soap, shampoo, and male and female hygiene items.
  • The United Arab Emirates is dedicating a fleet of three aircraft to help WFP deliver cargo and personnel in the COVID response until the end of the year. WFP is coordinating the logistics elements of the UN’s COVID response, so this support will help WFP deliver thousands of tons of critical humanitarian cargo to communities and frontline workers in more than 100 countries in the months ahead. While most commercial airlines remain grounded, the WFP-UAE air bridge will reconnect aid operations with a supply of medical equipment, goods and expertise to confront COVID in the developing world. The first airlift departed Abu Dhabi carrying medical equipment from Oslo to various locations. The three aircraft will operate in rotation between the UAE and key locations across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

  • To ensure the continuation of more than 533,000 students’ access to education, UNRWA’s program has evolved in the COVID-19 context. For example, UNRWA is especially focused on the psychosocial wellbeing of children and education staff; supporting health and hygiene safety through raising student awareness on the prevention of the transmission of the disease; the development of online courses for vocational training programs; and strengthening the monitoring and evaluation and evidence base of the COVID-19 response. As a result, psychosocial support in Lebanon has increased. In April over 11,100 check-in calls were conducted to follow up on students’ wellbeing and to provide advice on how to alleviate stress, anxiety, fear and panic and on how to help students engage in self-learning.
  • Further, an emergency response plan focusing on vocational students’ health, wellbeing, and training was developed on e-learning portals and cross-platform messaging services. Some 86% of students participated in e-learning activities in April 2020.
  • In Gaza, there have been 196,748 individual visits to the Interactive Learning Program, 109,269 individual visits to online-shared Self-Learning Materials, and 1,210 individual visits to the vocational training platform.

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

  • In Syria, IOM is providing additional water and soap bars to nearly 60,000 living in camps and informal settlements in NW Syria and is funding partners to conduct disinfection activities in camps. IOM has also provided tents to support the establishment of 72 triage stations in coordination with health partners.
  • In Somalia, IOM is conducting awareness raising among migrants crossing the border at seven flow monitoring points. From May 3-9, 2,964 individuals entering and exiting Somalia were reached. 67% reported that they were unaware of COVID-19.
  • IOM Yemen has trained 80 health workers on COVID-19 prevention and management protocols and established an isolation and treatment center (inclusive of an ICU) in Marib city. IOM is also establishing one quarantine facility in Marib’s largest IDP hosting site, Al Jufainah Camp. To ensure that displacement sites have access to adequate WASH services, IOM water trucking activities supported 4,242 people in Taizz, and 18 water site rehabilitation projects are ongoing across Shabwah, Lahj, Taizz and Abyan governorates.

International Labour Organization (ILO)

  • The COVID-19 health crisis has exposed two main adverse effects of gaps in sick leave and health insurance coverage: 1) such protection gaps can force people to go to work when they are sick or should self-quarantine, increasing the risk of infecting others, and 2) the related loss of income increases the risk of poverty for workers and their families. The ILO published updated recommendations for steps countries can take to mitigate these risks.