With many schools and businesses closed in the United States, social distancing has become the norm. Despite the uncertainty all around us, we’re also very concerned about the wider spread of COVID-19, as the Pandemic begins to reach many of the countries where Concern operates.
Concern is right there in the fight, distributing PPE, setting up handwashing stations, delivering key prevention messages to poor communities, and ensuring children don’t fall into malnutrition during extended lockdowns. Here, in alphabetical order, is a selection of activities from some of our countries of operation.
All group activities have been suspended in Afghanistan. Schools are closed until end of April, so our education initiatives have been suspended.
Otherwise, we have reallocated funding to procure and install handwashing facilities in our areas of operation, including the provincial capitals of Taloqan and Faizabad. Hygiene materials — including soap and paper towels — have also been procured, and community development facilitators are now conducting hygiene awareness campaigns tailored to COVID-19.
The team has provided hygiene kits and Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) training for our staff at health and nutrition centers, which for now are still functioning. They are also adapting an Ebola prevention program to face the challenged of COVID-19, with additional funding by UNICEF.
Refugee camps, where space is tight and living arrangements are transitional by nature, provide a challenge for social distancing. In Bangladesh, we have worked to ensure the availability of 1 month’s supply of food to the Rohingya refugees we support in the camps in Cox’s Bazar. We have also been distributing information leaflets about COVID-19 to communities in 3 districts in other parts of the country. Working with local religious leaders, we’re also distributing leaflets to local mosques, who can then share messages using their microphone during prayer times. Past experience has shown us that clear, consistent messaging from trusted community sources is key for prevention.
Central African Republic
The arrival of the coronavirus is expected to exacerbate the vulnerabilities of a population who are already coping with ongoing conflict. Our team is training health staff in 30 health centres, as well as equipping them with the materials needed to ensure the safety of both staff and patients. In addition, we are training a network of over 600 parent leaders and 90 community workers to train parents and communities in the region, and adapting regular activities to align with social distancing guidelines. We’re also producing radio messaging and other materials to promote vital messaging on reducing the spread of the virus.
S100 handwashing station with a ‘no touch’ foot pedal system are being distributed to markets, health centers, and other public spaces. All Concern program activities now include a COVID-19 prevention component, and specific measures for staff protection. Some response activities will extend beyond our current specific area of intervention, including a plan to support additional health centers.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Movements in the DRC are even more restricted than normal, but the Concern team members are leveraging their experience in dealing with the recent serious outbreak of Ebola in the province of North Kivu. 300 health staff have been trained in Infection Prevention and Control, helping them protect their own health and that of their patients. Risk communication and community engagement on infection prevention and control are key parts of tackling COVID-19. Some cash distributions to vulnerable families are ongoing, based on local authority guidance. Handwashing stations and social distancing have also been put in place at all food distribution sites.
Concern has provided technical guidelines, education, and communications materials on COVID-19 to health facilities in Ethiopia. To date we have delivered over 60,000 bars of soap to health centers and vulnerable communities, and set up handwashing stations. Our team is developing COVID–19–specific proposals for donors to fund, including emergency unrestricted cash assistance, phone counseling, and direct support to regional COVID–19 response plans.
The neighborhoods in which Concern works in Port-au-Prince are densely packed, with few public services and poor hygiene and sanitation. The Concern Haiti team is working with the authorities to secure water supply in poor communities, including pump repair and water trucking. 15,000 coronavirus prevention hygiene kits (including soap and detergent) are being distributed, and talks are under way to provide national COVID-19 messaging via mobile networks.
The Iraqi Ministry of Health confirmed 531 cases of COVID-19 on March 30, 2020. Years of conflict have limited the capacity of national systems to cope, and that number nearly doubled within a week. There are over 200,000 people living in displacement camps in Northern Iraq, making them highly vulnerable to the spread of Novel Coronavirus. With funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), Concern has begun a COVID-19 hygiene kit response, with plans to distribute bathing soap bars, detergent, and sanitary napkins to 84,500 individuals. We are also promoting COVID-19 prevention through a local partner.
In Kenya, we are working to provide cash assistance to urban households to cushion them against the economic impact of a COVID-19 shutdown, while we have proposed to work with a number of other agencies to promote awareness of social distancing and preparedness for an emergency situation. We are also working with the government and providing technical support through working groups and coordination meetings.
The Concern team in the north of the country has been busy with awareness raising among Syrian refugees living in collective shelters along with distribution of information flyers and soaps. Distribution of PPE materials, including gloves, shoe cover and masks to the Ministry of Social Affairs, and IPC kits (antiseptic spray, bleach, tissue, mop, garbage bags, gloves)for affected families.
In Malawi, a country still recovering from last year’s effects of Cyclone Idai, we have introduced COVID-19 sensitization messages and are distributing government messages at all our program activities.
In our livelihoods program, we’re reducing the size of meetings to keep physical distance between the farmers we work with. We’re also introducing handwashing before and after trainings and seed and livestock fairs. In Lilongwe, we’re supporting the Ministry of Health on community awareness in the high-density suburbs where the risk from the virus is highest.
In highly-vulnerable Niger, we’re scaling up all community awareness activities by sharing messages and advice to reduce the spread of COVID-19 over the radio. In addition, we’re training community leaders and members to share information about the virus within their communities. Finally, we’re setting up handwashing stations in all of the community locations — particularly in health centers.
The Pakistan team have reached agreement with USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to work with local pre-identified NGO partners to help curtail the spread of COVID-19. This will be done though the RAPID program. They will also look to strengthen government efforts to break the chain of transmission. Priority Health & WASH to Public Health emergency breaking the chain of transmission & reducing new infections.
Concern is supporting hygiene promotion campaigns for preventing COVID-19 in Pakistan, with approved messaging spread through mobile loudspeakers and via FM radio in villages. Local religious leaders have been engaged and have received COVID-19 information materials to share with their congregations.
In tribal districts bordering Afghanistan, Concern has distributed soaps, face masks, awareness raising pamphlets, banners and an ambulance to support the transportation of critical patients to the nearby designated health facility.
Concern already has an existing program in place in Sierra Leone to tackle the spread of malaria, and we are adapting that for a COVID-19 pandemic response. This includes engagement of Traditional Healers to help spread accurate information, training of Community Health Workers on COVID-19 symptoms, prevention, and treatment, and support for the Ministry of Health with contact tracing and surveillance. We’re supplying Infection Protection Control (IPC) materials and manufacturing 3,000 liters of alcohol hand sanitizer to distribute across 4 districts.
We’re also hoping to procure a supply of radios for distribution to communities to help reduce the number of those listening to one set.
Concern works with a number of other agencies in several consortia, where plans have been collectively drawn up to tackle COVID-19 together. Measures proposed include information dissemination, a cash-for-rent program for vulnerable households, training sessions for health staff, and converting and upgrading public buildings to health facilities. In addition, there will be unconditional cash transfers to help the poorest households, who will in turn be encouraged to use mobile transactions for purchases. This will avoid possible contamination from banknotes. Handwashing stations, provision of soap, and hygiene messaging are also a priority.
We are restricting the numbers of people in health and nutrition centers at any one time and are using community mobilizers to sensitize beneficiaries on staggered appointment times for services. We’ve segmented target groups into appointment times in order to protect high risk groups.
Social distancing is being practiced in all centers and during all activities. The number of handwashing facilities will be increased, and staff will be actively promoting handwashing, respiratory hygiene, and COVID-19 awareness. We will be supporting infection prevention and control, especially in areas of high population movement.
Over the last few weeks, Concern in Syria has rapidly scaled up hygiene kit distribution as well as providing extensive hygiene promotion campaigns based on WHO guidelines such as appropriate handing washing practices and respiratory behaviors.
In particularly vulnerable areas such as camps and informal settlements, Concern is planning to increase the number of water points to ensure Syrians, to the extent possible, meet social distancing guidelines as well as scaling up emergency clean water distribution ensuring sufficient water is available for households. To limit the economic effects on vulnerable populations, Concern has been continuing to distribute food vouchers, respecting social distancing
Your support is key
The safety and wellbeing of our nearly 4,000 in 23 countries is our priority and, given the restrictions, we are doing everything in our power to continue delivering existing programs. We’re able to respond to COVID-19 with speed and agility because of your committed support. It is the essential resource of our work.