Extending a helping hand: Community-responsive interventions against
As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) persists to spread throughout the world, the poor and vulnerable communities continue bear the brunt of its impact. Both government and non-government sectors have geared up efforts to deliver support and relief systems for marginalized communities as they face the unprecedented effects of COVID-19.
COVID-19 responses among communities in fragile contexts are face multiple challenges. The enforcement of lockdowns in many countries has imposed social and economic pressures especially among poor communities in the urban setting where subsistence and income rely heavily on daily wages. With the limitations set by the current situation, the opportunity to conduct dialogue among vulnerable communities to provide more strategic and responsive interventions has also been curtailed.
A handful of concerns
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the spread of COVID-19 primarily occurs through droplet and contact transmission. Evidence shows that hand hygiene is an effective measure for preventing the transmission of COVID-19 as our hands are can easily spread the droplets to other surfaces or one’s mouth, nose, or eyes.
The lack of awareness of this crucial information causes further distress among communities already facing the threat of insecurity in basic needs and services. Ensuring that residents practice proper hand hygiene can also be particularly challenging as most of these communities do not have access to basic supplies such as antiseptics, soap, and water.
Case in point is Ward no. 9 in Faridpur, Bangladesh where restrictions on the conduct of work among rickshaw pullers, small shop owners, and industry workers have deprived many residents of their daily wages that provide for basic needs. However, they remain unperturbed with the threats (and ways to prevent the transmission) of COVID-19 as they are more preoccupied with the need to provide food and other important care needs for their families. The situation is further compounded with the inconsistent water supply in Ward no. 9.
The City of Sialkot in Punjab Province is one of the largest producers of medical and hygiene supplies in Pakistan and the world. With the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, the global demand for disinfectant solutions like alcohol and hand sanitizers ballooned. It wasn’t long after the lockdown declaration in the country that the prices of antiseptic supplies skyrocketed, making them inaccessible to vulnerable communities.
Figure 2 Community-level awareness session Faridpur
All hands on deck
In light of the socioeconomic demands of the COVID-19 crisis in these cities, key actors from the public and private sectors collaborated with local communities to respond strategically at a rapid pace. National and provincial governments responded by providing health system improvements, financial stimulus packages, and other social protection measures in both countries.
Extensive awareness campaigns have been launched both by governments in Bangladesh and Pakistan across all forms of media that are accessible to communities: television, radio, social media, and mobile phones. Key messages focused in health consciousness and preventive measures to stem the transmission of the virus.
On the ground, non-government organizations worked with community-based organizations and local government units to complement the on-going awareness campaigns on COVID-19. In Pakistan, the community stakeholder group members under the UCCRTF-supported community-led project in Sialkot mobilized funding support from various sources to provide food rations to 35 families in the city. Agahe Foundation, distributed medical supplies to frontline health workers as well as hand sanitizers among communities in Sialkot. This was accompanied by the dissemination of information materials developed in the local context so residents can better understand COVID-19.
In Bangladesh, members of the youth community volunteered to help residents practice social distancing in Ward no. 9. In Faridpur, the humanitarian organisation Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM), produced information materials and conducted awareness-raising programmes while observing social distancing guidelines. In the absence of water supply in areas of the ward, mobile handwashing facilities were placed in strategic locations to help residents practice proper hand hygiene as a preventive important measure.
Figure 3: Street scene Sialkot
Fears of COVID-19’s health impacts and of its socioeconomic implications call for a resilient and concerted response among various sectors—public institutions, private sector, civil society, and local leaders. In many cases, national government responses to community issues are not effective because they do not address the local context. In the case of Faridpur and Sialkot, bottom-up approaches, such as localized awareness campaigns and the provision of mobile hand washing facilities initiated by local communities and organizations complemented other crucial development interventions conducted by other key social actors.
As part of TA 9329 under the UCCRTF, Oxfam GB is building resilient urban communities in 9 cities in 4 countries in Asia: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines, and Myanmar. Through its local partners (Oxfam Bangladesh, Oxfam Pakistan, DAM, and Agahe Foundation), SP3 is implementing community-led projects in Faridpur, Bangladesh and Sialkot, Pakistan.