Coronavirus could 'run rampant' in poor countries, IRC chief Miliband warns

David Miliband.
David Miliband. © FRANCE 24

In an interview with FRANCE 24, the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, shared his concerns for the world’s most vulnerable people – particularly the millions of refugees, internally displaced people and people living in war zones – amid the coronavirus pandemic.


The former British foreign minister warned that the disease could "run rampant" in poorer countries if sufficient measures were not taken in time.

"We’ve seen how countries with advanced health and disaster management systems, across Europe and in the US, have struggled with the coronavirus," Miliband told FRANCE 24. "Imagine what it’s going to be like where there is no proper health system, where there is no public health system – those are the places where the International Rescue Committee works."

"They’re places where there are excessively high levels of population density, which we know is a major contributor to the spread of the disease," he said. "And they’re places where, because of acts of war or displacement, the infrastructure of support is very weak indeed."

Around the world, billions of people lack access to running water and soap, which offer a key form of protection against the virus.

The International Rescue Committee chief continued: "We’ve been sounding the warning for some time now that although the recorded figures are low in Africa, in South Asia, in parts of the Far East like Bangladesh and Myanmar, the actual situation is worse and there is a limited period of time to put in place the most basic hand-washing facilities, triaging facilities, isolation facilities, to make sure that this disease does not run rampant when it finally does arrive."

Miliband called on rich countries to provide emergency humanitarian aid to poorer countries.

"They need to mobilise funds preemptively. We can’t wait to react. We’ve got to recognise that this is a disease of the connected world and it will affect every part of the world," he said.

Miliband also expressed concern about a potentially "desperate situation" in war-torn Syria.

"The danger in Idlib, where you have three and half million people packed into a densely populated area – a million people, as you rightly say, on the run since December – these are potentially desperate conditions in which very large numbers of people will get ill and very large numbers will lose their lives."

Finally, turning to the situation in Greece, where thousands of migrants are crammed into overcrowded camps on the Greek islands, Miliband urged both the European Union and Athens to live up to their responsibilities. 

"The truth is, there are fewer people on the move at the moment because borders are being closed and it’s imperative that we recognise that any human being is a potential carrier of this disease. There’s no discrimination and there needs to be no discrimination in the extension of testing and healthcare to those who need it," he said.

"We also need to see Europeans taking the most basic steps to ameliorate the danger that the disease runs amok in the Greek camps. That requires action, not inaction."

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Take international news everywhere with you! Download the France 24 app