A 2009 article in the New England Journal of Medicine cites increasing urbanization as a potential threat to public health, especially for certain vulnerable populations. “This demographic shift threatens to create a humanitarian disaster,” the article states. “The threat comes both in the form of rising rates of endemic disease and a greater potential for epidemics and even pandemics.”

As a global network of advocates who understand the need for equality, Initiative for Equality (IfE) is working to collect our best ideas through crowd-sourcing across the network, so we can speak up and press hard for protections for the most marginalized and vulnerable people in the world. We will publish and circulate our revised recommendations in mid-April. Here, we present the crowd-sourced ideas with very little editing.

The standard coronavirus recommendations may not be helpful for those who are so poor that they would starve if they didn’t go out looking for food each day; those who live in crowded slums and have no way to practice physical distancing; those who can’t isolate at home because they have no homes; those who are displaced – often living in huge camps with poor hygiene facilities; those in prisons or detention centers; those who are not recognized as citizens (or even humans) by their societies. 

Here are some crowd-sourced ideas from across the IfE network, many edited for clarity or combined to prevent duplication. This webpage will be updated frequently while we continue to receive suggestions. 


What are some immediate protective steps that people can take?

Stay home as much as possible. Avoid groups or meetings; limit your movements and contact with others. Only go places when absolutely necessary, and do not travel.

Physical distancing: stay 1 or 2 meters away from each other person when you leave your home, if possible. Greet people, but avoid shaking hands or hugging.

If you must go out to work, or to obtain food or medicine, wear a clean cloth (folded in half to be two layers) over your nose and mouth. When you return home, wash it before using it again.

Wash your hands frequently, especially before leaving home and after you return. Rub your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or wipe them with a solution of rubbing alcohol which can kill germs.

If you do not have soap and water or rubbing alcohol, you can wash your hands using clean ashes – this is not as effective, but it is better than nothing.

Do not touch your face (eyes, nose or mouth) unless you have just washed your hands.

Cough or sneeze into your elbow, or into a tissue, to prevent the water droplets from spreading in the air; use the tissue only once and throw it in a closed garbage can.

If you feel sick and have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, avoid all contacts. Wear a face mask or cloth to protect others. Of course, children must be cared for by their parents.

Contact a doctor right away, by telephone, to seek advice. Do not go to the clinic unless they request you to come and are ready to keep you isolated from others.

See the WHO (World Health Organization) website with recommendations to the public:


What needs to be done to protect people living in poverty during this pandemic?

Provide food, water and hygiene items to vulnerable and poor communities without sources of income or living in extreme poverty

We have to provide essentials to their location, right away.

Fully trained volunteers and protective supports.

A rapid assessment of the needs and which people who are really vulnerable.
Implement disease prevention activities to limit the risks of its spread in risk areas.
Provide adequate humanitarian assistance likely to meet the real needs of this population.

We need a great awareness of the disease, supported by prevention tools (handwash, soaps and / or disinfectants, permanent water points and caches, etc.)

Food aid (and other basic necessities)

Given my previous experience with the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, I believe Community Engagement is key for people living in poverty. If you want to build trust, share information transparently, involve and include communities directly (including women, children, older people, persons with disabilities and other often excluded groups), listen to them and understand their perceptions, social norms and beliefs, to avoid the spread of rumors and misinformation.

Continuous social mobilization and education, involving communities to come up with preventive approaches together. Listen to communities’ views.

Most of the time, the mental health and psychological needs of the poor people are ignored. Response teams should ensure appropriate measures are put in place to respond and take care of mental and psychological needs of poor.

Help provide food and clothing to the poorest people.

For poor rural communities (those who are in the villages) they must be helped to have cooking salt, soaps, and vegetable oil for cooking, and ask them to observe a time not to go to the markets, because they can get food from the fields.

For poorer people living in cities where there is a high concentration of people, they must be helped with basic foodstuffs and prevented from going to the markets.

Water and sanitation options need to be given. This is the front line of prevention and something poor people cannot afford. Measures need to be taken that assure, at the very least, local sanitation options for communities if they cannot receive private ones in their homes. This needs to be done in villages, and especially markets.

Markets are a prime area for the spread of the virus, but also is a key source of income for many poor people in the developing world who do not have the options of physical distancing. Temperature checks need to be constantly done while entering and exiting markets, and even when buying at booths. Temperatures and symptoms need to be constantly monitored. Touching produce and objects in the market needs to be limited as much as possible. Gloves should be provided.

Temperature checks should be done at all times in refugee camps with enforced social distancing here. Constant sanitation of the camps.

Given the situation facing the whole world today, the protection of people living in poverty especially and for all the vulnerable, marginalized and living in slums – protecting them is crucial.

For those in confinement who are unable to maintain themselves from day to day and thus meet some of the most basic needs (due to their extreme poverty), they need rapid assistance:

* Food: They are the ones who live below the threshold, and are not able to stock up on food. Guaranteeing them a food stock would be an assistance and a means of isolating them against the spread of covid-19
* Hygienic kits: these people have need of some hygienic materials for their protection. Ensuring them the means to stock up on these kits would allow them to limit the spread of the virus. Kits should include gloves, scarfs or cloth for face, alcohol or other disinfectants

Implement taxation on the income of the very rich, to pay for the cost of protecting the poor.

We should adopt two strategies:

Short term: support from our capacity, and make respective governments more accountable to address the current problems.

Long term: advocate for an alternative development approach. The current liberal economy will never be able to address the inequality that has been created, so we have to continue our advocacy for alternatives from the grassroots level to the global arena.

Need to stop police brutality when implementing the lock-down directive.

Enhance citizen education through organised community groups, social workers, religious leaders and other community professionals.


Social safety nets need to be increased (basic access to essential items).

Immune boosting strategy in place (particularly quality Vitamin C).

Elements of the informal economy needs to carry on (support this).

Support to shortening supply chains, especially in food

What is needed is to advocate and put pressure on decision-makers to change their minds and NOT confine people, but to instead provide them protection masks and cover basic needs.

Like Bifo Berardi mentioned, and at the moment it seems the most urgent for people living in poverty or in inhumane conditions: “we need a vaccine against the malady, we need protective masks, and we need intensive care equipment. And in the long run we need food, we need affection and pleasure. And a new culture of tenderness, solidarity, and frugality.”


How can we in civil society help these communities?

Mobilize IfE’s Field Hearings partners to organize their respective networks to collect donations and the items above, and distribute these in marginalized communities.

We need to provide information which connects us; creates the feeling of connections, that we all are in same place and world.

Someone has to signal to bring all people into a platform and sensitize everyone for extending humanitarian supports.

Launch an intense public awareness campaign to explain to the populations the dangers which threaten humanity, and what they must do. 

Identify the local stakeholders likely to help convey our message door to door.

Mobilize our communities to take ownership of the fight against CODID-19.

Determine to provide a quality and accountable service to our beneficiaries.

It helps WHO and governments when we raise awareness about measures to prevent the spread of this pandemic.

As actors of civil society, we are limited because we do not have the means necessary to raise awareness. We don’t have the tools and materials for awareness, but we just limit ourselves to spreading the message about prevention and spread of the virus.

Due to the lack of resources to prepare and protect against the coronavirus, the poor people face a high risk of contracting and spreading the virus. Therefore, as CSOs there is need to engage governments to understand that its their obligation to protect people’s right to adequate food and nutrition.

Measures need to be enforced and facilitated to assure running water and sanitation.

Temperature check devices need to be provided to locals and communities.

Civil society must seek at all costs to denounce all the abuses and violations of human rights observed in every nook and cranny of the city.

In the event of non-compliance with the standards to be followed developed by the government, civil society must ensure that these rules are applied.

Civil society shall make a plea to the government to help the people, especially those more impaired or vulnerable.

Monitoring all the cases observed and reporting to the government would be an asset for a dignified civil society.

Put pressure on national governments.

It would be good if we can generate funds to support them for food, medicine, mask, sanitizer, medical equipment and so on.

If we ourselves cannot gather the need funding, we have to make our government more responsive and accountable to solve these problems.

NGOs each have their mandate. But the two most important right now are to support health, and then basic access (food, water), which are interlinked.

Be a bridge between government and people, go where government is unable to, fill the cracks.

Education: set up simple WhatsApp education platforms.

Health: awareness and immune boosting in communities.

Access: make sure everyone is fed. Show human kindness and trust.

Advocate for decision-makers not to confine poorest people and show authoritarian approach (like in India and Uganda).

Make these situations more visible, give them voice, lobby the governments… understand there are first needs that we can address.

Continue pressuring for more welfare state and equity in our own societies, maybe then we will see how unprotected these communities are.


What steps must we demand that our governments take?

Enactment of programs of universal income.

Governments are trying their best, however, they should address it seriously but collectively, it is not the issue of geographic borders.

Establish more coordination cells and necessary preparation that can easily access communities.

To take the disease seriously, to take ownership of the fight against this disease, to make available the means necessary to reduce its spread among its population and to assure the appropriate care for people already affected.

Demand measures that require everyone not to leave home (containment) for countries already affected by the pandemic

Demand support for vulnerable populations with food and non-food, because confining a vulnerable population without any support would be more deadly than the Coronavirus.

Invest more on public health infrastructures to ensure that there is adequate local public health infrastructure in place.

Demand good health facilities across the country.

Pay our health workers good money.

Keep a clean environment.

Demand they stop people from eating animals are not healthy to eat.

Ask governments to find and discourage all those who give false information on social networks.

Seek leaders who go to communities to provide help and awareness.

Reinforce security at borders, airports, ports and all other entry or exit routes, because as soon as these places are penetrable, there is always a risk of letting suspected cases pass; impose sanctions on border agents who are discovered to have taken bribes to let people pass.

Train and give low-level managers the materials necessary to test their constituents regularly.

Strengthen health structures and systems.

Identify and group poor households, by avenue at the rate of 250 to 500 households, for an eventual distribution of food if possible; this to avoid any attempted diversion.

The government must ask public water works agencies to make water available through all pipes and spigots, and must appoint hygiene agents at water spigots to regulate the use of soaps.

Governments must put agents at the doors of food stores to control selling prices, and to sanction anyone who voluntarily overprices foods.

Give the right information to the people of each country.

Suspend projects and developments that are temporarily unnecessary and that divert funds and focus away from the virus, where the output needs to be relocated to creating sanitation and temperature check points.

The government being the guarantor of the population, it has the right to protect these citizens against all the hazards and alerts that are coming in all these countries. The government must ensure, during this pandemic period when all strata of the population are in a difficult situation, that the various cases observed and declared as reality of this pandemic be taken care of.

The development of the media in all regions for awareness in the fight against the spread of this pandemic is a needed measure.

Contacting national and international partners in the fight against this pandemic is the responsibility of the government.

The provision for hygiene in all its facets is an allocation of government in fight against the spread of Covid-19. The government must ensure the reinforcement of hygiene measures in public places, to provide intelligence for different boundaries; in airports to ensure the condition of the people coming in and out in the country;

The government must arrange sufficient reception areas (clinics, hospitals, health centers, etc.) for the treatment of diseases.

The government should provide assistance (food and non-food) to its general population and especially for the most vulnerable, displaced persons with no income, etc., at a time when all layers of the population are in confinement.

Governments must tax the richest. Currently, there are fewer than 150 billionaires in the world, but they have a combined annual income of over US $2.6 trillion (according to an Oxfam/Credit Suisse report presented at Davos). A modest 1 percent tax on their income would amount to US $26 billion annually, and could alleviate poverty and the crisis of marginalized groups suffering from Covid-19 without water, basic hygiene and food. This is over TEN times more than the EU has pledged to aid countries today, although the EU still cannot agree on the larger so-called “coronabonus”.

We have to demand the following points with our government:

  1. To provide quality food, medicine to the people, especially to those who are marginalized and do not have access to public resources.
  2. Maintain WHO standards in hospital, quarantine, and other areas.
  3. Secure rights of migrants who are stopped in border of the country because of lockdown.
  4. Maintain good governance and transparency in COVID 19 response activities.
  5. Ask governments not to curtail civil and political rights of people in the name of the pandemic.
  6. Guarantee and ensure food, water, and medicine and treatment for any COVID-related problem.

Social safety nets first (including free health support first).

Immune boost strategy in short term.

Economy WILL fail – take the time to restructure it so that human wellbeing becomes top priority for countries.

Cover electricity and water bill for the poorest, and provide protection masks to all.

Free health care, housing, access to food – not only for those in these communities, but to the population.

Work towards a “a society free from the compulsions of accumulation and economic growth.”


What can these communities themselves do to prevent the spread of coronavirus?

By (physical) distancing in a way that they should not feel (socially) separated.

They must wash frequently with soap and water or alcohol. If those are not available,  clean wood ash may be used to scrub hands, although this is not as good as soap and water.

The community leaders should be more active in deploying communities volunteers for overall coordination, communication and facilitation.

Communities must first be trained and informed about the danger of the disease for a good awareness, and decide to respect at all costs the necessary protective measures.

N95 masks can be decontaminated by heating them to 75 degrees celsius for 30 minutes. See These masks provide some protection to the wearer both for spreading and becoming infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

For our communities, the hygiene measures implemented by the authorities and the WHO for prevention and spread must be respected (hand washing with soap and / or disinfectant, social distancing). People understand these measures but their application will not be easy because the measures to support communities are not well defined by most governments.

Communities can adapt the following measures: Minimize or stop social functions, Restrict the movements within or outside the communities, and Come up with bylaws and institute a neighborhood watch system.

Need to monitor and avoid social contact when not necessary for labor and economic purposes.

The community must respect the rules of hygiene (wash your hands with soap, use of scarves, and other measures) at all times and wherever it is, but also it must put into practice the measures taken by the Head of State.

Communities must report any suspected case in the community to the competent services in order to deal with it, to limit contact.

Raising awareness among each other is a noble measure to be adopted by communities to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Communities must follow the physical distancing and stay at home [to the extent possible] and do yoga [if culturally appropriate].

Depending on access, the simple social distancing.

Wash hands, build drippy taps to help with hand washing in larger community water points.

As far as possible, take care of immune system.

Use systematically their protection mask.

Poorest people cannot do much for themselves, otherwise they would not be classified POOR.

It depends on each case… But if their voice reaches the world it’s very important.

Have access to information on what ways they can prevent the virus themselves, and strengthen their immune system in the best way possible and accessible to them.


What systems, policies and practices must be changed, going forward into the future, to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again?

Increase taxation of banks and financial institutions to finance programs to combat Covid-19 [and other pandemics].

Address institutional education for increasing awareness.

Combat the selfish spirit that characterizes politicians.

Don’t neglect the danger of illness and minimize the value of prevention in such circumstances.

Avoid unpreparedness at all levels to face similar challenges.

Our health control services must have the necessary capacities and be very vigilant in the exercise of their functions because human health is priceless. Appoint highly qualified ministers of health.

Establishing a robust and proactive global pandemic preparedness. There is need for all countries both developed and underdeveloped as well as donors to invest in global pandemic preparedness.

World superpowers should stop over-ruling other countries’ views.

Increase monitoring and control over wildlife trade and human and animal contact. Wildlife trade becomes more dangerous the more underground it gets through bans, making it more susceptible to un-hygienic practices and relations in order to avoid security. Limiting and controlling the wildlife trade that already exists, when not done on endangered species or further endangering species, can be a measure.

Increasing employment by staffing citizens in the monitoring of the wildlife trade.

Governments must strengthen the hygiene system at all borders by implementing a transit building for checking any entry and exit with tools adapted to the control of any case (epidemic or pandemic) in the country.

Governments must strengthen the health system by providing it with all possible means for the management of any pandemic, and the strengthening of the capacities of health care personnel in the exercise of their function, for better management of urgent health crises in the national territory.

Fiscal policies and taxation [to provide and distribute the needed resources.]

The health system should be nationalized, and ensure the free health care of people (stop the corporatization of the health system).

At the international level we need to re-invigorate the UN system & multilateralism, because:  

  • so many countries are lapsing back into nationalism, thus regional and multilateral organizations are needed to stem this
  • many countries are using the corona pandemic to shut down democracy – while the UN is about fundamental human rights, civil and political rights and social and economic rights
  • the UN agenda 2030 for sustainable development is a good roadmap for all areas of politic action, supplemented by ratified conventions (gender, children, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and ILO conventions
  • special area: health needs to be acknowledged as a public, government-funded good. See SDG 3 and the universal health coverage campaign of the WHO. This requires globally coordinated co-funding of health systems, social assistance, etc., in low-income countries
  • special area: climate change: the Paris Agreement calls for urgent action, which in principle were agreed in 2015
  • the UN is the only global body which can call for and monitor cease fires

Systemic change – i.e. economic transformation from the current one to one that supports human well-being and equality of life on Earth.

Using protection mask continuously, even after the pandemic…Other viruses are waiting to happen. In cities like Mumbai, Lagos, Dakar…. using protection mask should be compulsory during pollution pic and season every year from now.

WHO should be freed from big countries and pharmaceutic corporates. There are lessons to learn on how this coronavirus has been managed by WHO.

This pandemic made us forget climate change… but the coronavirus is an opportunity to help the International community evolve and reinforce the global environmental governance.

Protect climate and ecological systems

Strengthen the welfare state, in particular health care

Protect workers’ rights


Updated 11 April 2020. This webpage will be updated frequently while we continue to receive suggestions.