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COVID-19 Testing and Cases Among Women in Conflict Settings May be Underreported, New IRC Analysis Finds

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New York, NY, June 24, 2020 — Data collected by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) shows a much higher discrepancy between male and female confirmed COVID-19 cases, compared to the global average, in many countries where the IRC works. The global average denotes that 51% of cases are male. Yet, in places like Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen, cases are more than 70% male. While testing is extremely limited across all these countries, this could point to an even greater lack of access to testing and healthcare for women in conflict-affected countries, despite exposure to the disease, particularly as women make up the majority of primary caregivers and health workers in these countries. The IRC is working to ensure women receive information about COVID-19, how to protect themselves, and where to seek services should they fall ill. The IRC is also continuing to provide critical healthcare to women and services to survivors of violence and women forced to quarantine with their abusers

The gender disparity of cases are particularly stark in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Chad, and Central African Republic where confirmed female COVID cases are below 30%:

  • In Yemen, 75% of cases are male and 25% are female
  • In Pakistan, Chad and Central African Republic, 74% of cases are male and 26% female
  • In Somalia and Afghanistan, 72% of cases are male and 28% female

In contrast, in richer countries, the gender disparity in the number of COVID cases matches the global ratio with female cases equal to or very close to 50%. Some examples include the United States (51% female), Germany (52% female), United Kingdom (54% female), Belgium (63% female), and Sweden (59% female).

Stacey Mearns, Senior Technical Advisor of Emergency Health at the IRC, said, "This data suggests women are being under tested for COVID-19 in many places where the IRC works. This could have serious ramifications for their physical wellbeing. Both men and women in conflict-affected countries experience great difficulty in accessing healthcare, but data shows women have a slimmer chance of seeing a doctor than men in countries such as Pakistan. While men in these places have more freedom of movement and tend to be out in the community socializing more, many go home to women. Also, women are usually caretakers of the sick and elderly in these cultures and therefore exposed to COVID-19. Women also work in industries such as healthcare as nurses and cleaners, in retail and in the informal sector as market-sellers, food vendors and domestic workers, all exposing them to the virus."

"The numbers do not add up. What we are seeing is a situation in which women are potentially being left out of testing and their health deprioritized. There is a need for a major increase in testing for everyone in the countries where we work, but we must pay particular attention to ensure women are getting equal access to testing and health care. With increased funding, the IRC can continue to protect the most vulnerable women against the impacts of COVID-19 through continued healthcare, protection and economic programming."

From experience responding to crises for over 80 years, we know that women and girls experience crises differently than men and boys because of gender discrimination and inequality. Women in conflict-affected countries typically have less access to the internet and information networks​, with the digital gap creating specific challenges in the age of the pandemic, as misinformation births stigma and worsens the impact of the disease. The IRC is informing women and gender minorities on the symptoms of COVID-19 and how to access healthcare in hopes of ensuring everyone gets equal access to testing and treatment.

In addition to combating unequal health care access, the IRC is working to prevent increasing violence towards women in the face of COVID-related restrictions and to support women forced to quarantine with abusers. This work continues to require dedication and innovation. In Uganda, an innovative phone password system is helping women who fear that they are in danger reach out to case workers.

The IRC has launched a US $30 million appeal to help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world's most vulnerable populations. We are working across three key areas: to mitigate and respond to the spread of coronavirus within vulnerable communities; protect IRC staff; and ensure the continuation of our life-saving programming as much as possible across more than 40 countries worldwide. To learn more about IRC's response click here.

**Data as of June 21, 2020. Sources include: