The COVID-19 pandemic reached Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) on 5 March 2020, with the first confirmed cases identified in Banja Luka. BiH declared a state of emergency on 17 March. The number of coronavirus cases is expected to peak in May 2020. The already overstretched health care system faces even more challenges in coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the lack of vital medical equipment, protective gear for health workers, and coronavirus diagnostic test kits, the country does not have enough medical personnel, in general. The entire population has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the poor and other vulnerable groups, such as minorities, migrants, the elderly and children, are especially at risk. The socio-economic consequences will depend very much on the duration of the crisis and the measures taken to support BiH’s economy and its population.
Having been engaged in the health sector in BiH for the past 20 years, the Swiss Embassy immediately stepped up to support its long-term partners, primarily those organisations which work directly with health care facilities and health care professionals. Contingency plans have been put in place also for all other existing projects in the fields of economy and employment as well as local governance to take into account new challenges. Interventions will be adapted as necessary. Switzerland will continue to address the specific needs of migrants including those related to COVID-19 through its ongoing partnership with the Danish Refugee Council.
In addition, Switzerland is making CHF 1.4 million available to respond quickly to the pressing needs caused by COVID-19 in BiH.
Response to the needs of local authorities
At the request of BiH health authorities, the Swiss Embassy (via UNDP) financed the urgent procurement of respirators, COVID-19 diagnostic tests and protective gear for hospitals throughout the country.
Response to the needs of citizens
· Financial support is being provided to Caritas Switzerland and the Roma Women Association “Bolja budućnost” to ensure basic food items for the poor and other vulnerable persons (this comprises assistance for 2.150 households, or about 6.800 individuals).
· Top-up funding is being provided to the Mental Health Project (implemented by the Association XY) for online psychological support of patients with mental health problems and for the purchase of basic protective equipment for medical personnel.
· 200 households in Kotor Varoš, Maglaj, Jablanica and Pale will receive through the Catholic Relief Services vegetables seeds, organic manure, plant protection items as well as guidance, allowing them to meet their immediate food needs.
Response to the needs of the economy
As part of their ongoing interventions Swiss project partners are elaborating interventions aimed at the post-pandemic economic recovery. Priorities include the following: preserving jobs, securing the livelihoods of people, and identifying new economic opportunities.