Virus Still Threatens

While some countries see positive signs of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, others see their situation becoming increasingly serious. 

June 13, 2021 | Be Informed

Pandemic remains a struggle in countries where Unbound works 

Several months into the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the story around the world is one of both hope and concern. In some countries, life is starting to return to normal while, in others, the situation is more dire than at any time since the pandemic began.

According to the Our World in Data Project at the University of Oxford, nearly 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered worldwide as of June 1. Not surprisingly, the highest percentage of those have been in wealthier nations. That’s in stark contrast to the nations where Unbound works. With the exception of Chile, none has a vaccination rate higher than 13%, with half reporting 1% or less of the population vaccinated. Cases are on the rise in many places.

Here’s a look at three of the hardest hit nations within the Unbound community.

Pinky, a former sponsored child, stands outside the hospital in Bhagalpur, India, where she is doing her nursing internship. Health care workers in India are struggling to keep up with the demands of the COVID-19 crisis.

Bleak conditions in India  

As of June 1, the World Health Organization reported that nearly 29 million people in India had contracted COVID-19, with more than 350,000 reported deaths. However, according to Reuters, the actual number of mass cremations and burials during that period far surpassed the official death toll.

An update from the Unbound team in Delhi described a dire situation.

“Cases shot up suddenly in April 2021, which turned the coronavirus situation grim, fearful and uncertain,” the report said. “Last year, it was identified that the coronavirus is impacting the elderly and people with health complications. This year, it has been found that the new COVID strain is impacting young and old alike.”

The latest signs indicate that things may be trending in a more positive direction. On June 6, India reported its lowest number of new infections in two months. Still, with the onset of monsoon season, which always brings the risk of flood-borne disease, as well as warnings reported by multiple news sources of a possible third wave later in the year, the situation in India remains serious.

Observing proper physical distancing, members of families in the Unbound community wait to receive supplies at a local program office in Bhagalpur, India. Currently, their country leads the world in the rate of COVID infections and deaths. 

Reaching out in Peru 

Peru is another leading nation in COVID infections. The story there is largely one of inadequate medical resources and an overburdened health system. Much-needed oxygen is in short supply and people are standing in lines for hours to receive what little is available.

Jael López, coordinator of the Unbound program in Lima, described conditions in her country as serious.

“There is still a significant increase in infections, around 7,000 cases a day,” she said. “And although deaths have decreased, all ICU beds are still occupied. … This has a lot to do with the health system here in Peru because it has not favored us and is very deficient.”

As in other countries with an Unbound presence, the staff in Peru has adapted during the pandemic to keep sponsorship benefits flowing. Still, the families Unbound serves have been impacted, some significantly.

“These cases have been covered thanks to the COVID fund authorized by [Unbound headquarters], López said. “This has helped a lot and we try to reach the families most affected by the pandemic. …

“... We do have cases of families that have lost loved ones during this pandemic. We have been able to reach all those families and we have tried to accompany them.”
We do have cases of families that have lost loved ones during this pandemic. We have been able to reach all those families and we have tried to accompany them.

— Jael López, Coordinator of the Unbound program in Lima, Peru

Growing frustration in Colombia 

According to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, Colombia is in the top 5% of nations in COVID-19 infections, with the rate of infection climbing. Despite that, Unbound regional reporter Carolina Pulgarín Botero says that the South American nation is easing pandemic restrictions.

Contributing to the seeming incongruity of the situation, Pulgarin Botero said, is the fact that for several weeks Colombia has been in the midst of large-scale protests stemming from public frustration over tax increases in a bad economy. Most of the protests have been peaceful, but not all.

“The demonstrations that have taken place since April 28 have generated more than 47 deaths throughout the country, especially in Cali, and have generated millions in losses and property damage,” Pulgarín Botero said.

Like Unbound staff throughout the world, the Colombia teams have adapted as best they can to serve the families, which were hit hard by the shutdown of the informal economy. Using electronic bank transfers, they’ve been able to keep sponsorship funds flowing to the families at a time of great need.

During the past year, Unbound staff have been working primarily out of their homes and keeping in touch with families virtually.

Photo 1: Sponsored elder Nelly rests after receiving supplies at her local Unbound office in the Philippines. In addition to the hardship of the pandemic, her home was destroyed last year by Typhoon Ulysses. She is among many helped through Unbound’s Critical Needs Fund. 

Photo 2: An elderly couple stands outside their home wearing masks made and distributed by Unbound staff and volunteers in Guatemala. Checking on elderly shut-ins and making sure they’re cared for during the pandemic has been a major focus in local Unbound communities. 

Resilience in adversity 

Throughout the Unbound world, families and staff are staying connected through cell phones, messaging apps and whatever other means are available as restrictions, in some places, are slowly being loosened. In the Philippines, program activities are mostly taking place virtually or through a combination of virtual and in-person activities, while in Unbound’s newest country, Rwanda, staff returned to their offices in early June and are, on a limited basis, once more visiting local communities.

The final word on how COVID-19 has affected the Unbound community may prove to be one of resilience in the face of adversity. Esther, a sponsored elder in Kenya, offers one example. Like so many who work in the informal economy, her poultry business was decimated in the pandemic when she couldn’t reach her customers. Thankfully, Unbound COVID relief funds helped her through the initial stage of the crisis and she’s once again raising chickens to sell.

Unbound’s Critical Needs Fund helps people like Esther make it through hard times such as the pandemic and natural disasters. Thanks to the generosity of the Unbound community, more than $3 million in emergency COVID-19 relief has been sent directly to countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America since the start of the pandemic.