Groups like Save the Children are working to raise funds and send supplies to areas where coronavirus is spreading

By Sean Neumann
February 10, 2020 11:24 AM
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As worry about the new coronavirus spreads, what people need most is information and not fear, according to international aid organizations.

“Not panicking is the first rule of thumb, says Jesse Hartness, director of Global Health in Emergencies for Save the Children. The nonprofit’s information campaign aims to create global awareness about the simple ways individuals can help slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Understanding social distancing and making sure you’re practicing proper hygiene, like washing your hands or preparing your food well — those are all the most basic things to do and the most effective,” Hartness says.

This new coronavirus — a respiratory illness with pneumonia-like symptoms — has infected more than 40,000 and killed 910 in China, as of Feb. 10. Though the U.S. has only seen 12 cases so far, international media coverage of the virus has left many Americans wondering how to best avoid getting sick, as well as how they can help others impacted by the virus.

The U.S.-based Save the Children is one of a handful of organizations taking donations to deliver supplies and offer international support to communities impacted by coronavirus. The organization sent 36,000 face masks to Wuhan, China on Friday morning.

And through monetary donations, the group is organizing global workshops that focus on major epidemic outbreaks and how to fight them.

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Beyond the dissemination of information, Hartness says the delivery of health services is also key. With volunteers on the ground, his group and others will supply medical professionals with basic supplies like gloves and masks.

“Health services are the first ones that are affected,” Hartness says. “Making sure that doctors, nurses, anyone that’s doing triage — just making sure they have proper gloves, masks and proper personal protective equipment is often challenging in a resource environment, so that’s one of the first things we do in a large outbreak like this.”

The organization Doctors Without Borders is also gearing up to help internationally and is open to general donations rather than coronavirus-specific donations. A spokesperson for the organization tells PEOPLE that by pooling donations into a general fund, this allows Doctors Without Borders to allocate funds as crises unfold, rather than marking them for one specific issue.

Many American individuals are also shipping items like face masks overseas, while larger foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it will donate up to $100 million to improve detection, protection and medical treatment efforts.

“Multilateral organizations, national governments, the private sector and philanthropies must work together to slow the pace of the outbreak, help countries protect their most vulnerable citizens and accelerate the development of the tools to bring this epidemic under control,” Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman said in a press release. “Our hope is that these resources will help catalyze a rapid and effective international response. This response should be guided by science, not fear, and it should build on the steps that the World Health Organization has taken to date.”

Hartness reiterates that information efforts can eliminate that fear.

“Soap is cheap and available in most communities, so making sure people wash their hands and prepare food in a proper way are really simple and easy to do. It’s making sure people know that’s effective in slowing this outbreak,” he says. “It doesn’t take a lot of additional resources to do that, but that information needs to be out there and people need to be supported to do that.”