Just three months ago, the Covid-19 epidemic made its dramatic entrance into the daily lives of the French people. Within that time, the Foundation has been able to set up six research projects and partnerships on the impact of health measures, the management of volunteers during the crisis, and the news forms of vulnerabilities. This responsiveness was made possible by our long-term strategic choices.

The early definition of research themes

From the end of January, our networks of researchers were already actively addressing the epidemic, which still seemed very remote. French citizens had just been repatriated from Wuhan and placed in quarantine. Faced with this unprecedented situation, researchers in the social sciences were on high alert: this needed to be documented. Covid-19 therefore quickly took priority, topping the list of the Foundation’s concerns. Health and epidemics are, indeed, one of our three priority research themes.

How could we make ourselves useful? Firstly, by responding to the needs expressed by the Red-Cross, on the frontlines in this multifaceted crisis. Secondly, by taking a position on a number of niches, underfunded subjects drawn from the WHO’s nine priority themes, in order to consistently organise research on Covid-19 and its funding at global level. Our research subjects developed out of these twin constraints: on the one hand, the question of volunteers on the front line in this epidemic context, their accompaniment and behaviour, and on the other hand, the impact of health measures on the most vulnerable groups.

Flash procedures and co-construction

In order to treat a research subject that was evolving at high speed, the Foundation was led to adapt its means of action. “Flash” procedures were implemented to reduce the delay from six months down to a few weeks between calls for proposals, their evaluation, the selection of a researcher and the validation of the Scientific Committee. Two grants have already been allocated, and research on the projects has begun. One, led by Émilie Mosnier, a doctor of epidemiology and public health, focuses on volunteers in the epidemic context, bridging two field sites: Marseille and Guyana. The second research project examines a particular contact-tracing procedure implemented with community assistance in Senegal. Two other grants are to be launched shortly.

In addition, the crisis situation has accelerated the formalisation of new kinds of partnerships, on research led by teams from the Institut Pasteur and the CNRS. In the context of these joint projects, the Foundation has, more than ever, fulfilled its demanding role as the bridge between the academic community and the field teams. Sociologists have thus supported the “Red Cross at your place” programme, a telephone platform for solidarity-based support and delivery, implemented by the French Red Cross, analysed data giving us a better understanding of vulnerabilities, of the risks linked to isolation and the new kinds of engagement. For the future, the Red Cross teams will benefit from precious recommendations for the analysis, development and adaptation of the programme they have implemented as a matter of urgency.

Vindicated strategic choices

If we were able to set up our projects in record time, it was also thanks to the reactivity of some of our financers: the French Red Cross, the Canadian Red Cross, the AXA Research Fund, and the donors who responded to our fundraising appeal. Encouraged by the trust of its partners – sponsors, researchers, operational agents – the Foundation has shown its relevance in times of crisis and felt vindicated by its strategic choices.

Photo above: @Salvadorian Red Cross