By Titi Tade, Medical Social Worker, Lagos, Nigeria

 

The COVID-19 Pandemic plunged the world into an unprecedented crisis. Globally, most gaps within the different health sectors in Africa were exposed due to the contagion.

In Nigeria, the initial high of identifying and isolating our index case and his close contacts by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) gradually gave way to the reality of community transmission that has been aggravated by the economic fall out of the lockdown, fear of seeking COVID-19 treatment from government facilities and a general distrust of the government led COVID-19 fight as a scam. Nigeria, as at 5th June 2020, had 11,844 confirmed cases during which Lagos State maintained epicenter status with 4,694 cases.

As a Health/Social Care worker in Lagos State, I am both a member of the public who is worried about the growing rates of community transmission and a member of the “frontline” who has to provide services to the general public within a health system that is in the beginning stages of  being overwhelmed. Prior to COVID-19, the health system had always faced the challenges of gross under-funding, inadequate staffing, brain drain and competition from traditional healers.

On a day to day basis our challenges mirror those of healthcare workers around the world. We worry about getting infected at work and taking the infection home to our loved ones, we worry about insufficient supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and how to safely reuse them.  Due to the shutdown of commercial transportation during the lockdown, if you did not own a vehicle, you worried about how you would get to work. As the lockdown eases and people resume their daily activities, you worry about community transmission in commercial vehicles as you make your way to work.

Normally in government hospitals, the number of patients that come in on a daily basis number are in the thousands, it is not unusual for a clinic to be run by 3 nurses with 150 patients waiting to see 10 doctors.  During the lockdown, most cases seen in the hospital were COVID-19 cases, emergency cases and a handful of other illnesses but nothing as overwhelming as pre COVID-19 numbers. Unfortunately, as the lockdown is being gradually eased open, the number of infections is rising, and the hospitals are opening to patients who have not been able to see their healthcare professionals in about 2 months for their regular appointments, this combination means that the number of people accessing healthcare services will outstrip the pre COVID-19 numbers. Hospitals and healthcare workers are bracing for the surge in patients with trepidation as we watch how the healthcare systems of ‘developed nations’ are being overwhelmed by treating and responding to the Coronavirus.

As the saying goes, behind every dark cloud is a silver lining. Our silver lining is the fact that since colleagues have been fighting the virus globally for over 6 months now, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from them. The digital age has made it possible for new information about how best to fight the pandemic become available in literally seconds from when the initial author posts the information on the internet. In Nigeria, we have used numerous virtual platforms such as Zoom to conduct trainings on experience learning and best practices for healthcare workers. We have also used the platforms to reach healthcare workers in locations of the country that are only just recording their first infection of the virus. The NCDC is working with affected State Governments e.g. the Lagos State Government, the Federal Ministry of Health as well as State Ministries of Health to ensure a coordinated approach to our Isolation and Treatment Centres and to shorten the timeline between testing of people to hospitalization of COVID-19 positive people. This doesn’t mean that everything works perfectly just yet, but we are learning, adapting, documenting and sharing the new information as we go along.

Everyone has been talking about the “new normal”, but what that is for us in healthcare in Nigeria is still being shaped. Everything from the way patients are booked to visit the hospital, to how healthcare professionals attend to patients will most likely change. These routine processes would now have to respect infection prevention and control measures, physical distancing and, rather harshly, be implemented with the assumption that everyone has the coronavirus until proved otherwise. It will take some adapting to the “new normal” for both healthcare providers and service users but it is a change we must embrace

So…

In Nigeria, we are adapting to these evolving rules for socializing and engaging others. We are adapting to wearing face masks anytime we are outdoors. We are adapting to the ‘new normal’. Being the resilient people that we are, we begun a trend, the fashionable re-usable face masks, which I think will stay, long after the end of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

AWOC distributes 1,353 learning packages to vulnerable youth

By Dalton Otim, Research Administrator of the Uganda hub

Through AWOC, the Uganda hub secured a small grant/donation from a member of Gutau’ Catholic Parish in Austria, in response to Education Support during the COVID-19 lockdown. This was meant to serve target beneficiaries from primary schools (1,150 pupils) and secondary schools (475 students) in marginalized communities of Alebtong District, Uganda. During the COVID-19 lockdown, unlike learners from urban areas in Uganda, learners from rural communities can’t access the online learning material produced by the Ministry of Education through National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC)The grant allowed AWOC’s team to:

  1. Procure working tools to schools (laptops, printers, cartons of paper, hand washing facilities and other office supplies);
  2. Print, photocopy and distribute self-study materials to the students (Sciences and Humanities packages);
  3. Mobilize learners through radio announcement pinned class schedules in public places.

Within one month, a total of 1,353 learners were given self-study material packages. Out of 1,353 learners 55% were males and 45% were females – 70% of all learners were from primary school and 30% were from secondary school.

Achievements

The required working tools were delivered as planned allowing the production of self-study materials at the beginning of June 2020. The team managed to control the number of learners attending the sessions by making a schedule for the distribution of the materials to learners. The schedule was enforced after the team received a police warning as enthusiastic students were not following the government directives of people gathering and social distancing.

Mobilization of learners was effective through radio announcements and pinning sessions schedules in public places. These methods ensured that learners from all the district came to the distribution centre. Learners signed agreements with the organisation – they pledge to make good use of the self-study material.

Challenges and lessons learnt

  • Making sure that students and parents would follow government guidelines to restrict COVID-19 spread during distribution sessions;
  • The team did not have data about the number of students and their respective grade who would come to the centre to acquire the self-learning material. Therefore, some packages were printed in excess.
  • Some learners complained that their parents were not giving them enough time to read their books. They had to engage in domestic and garden work.
  • Candidate classes came in big numbers compared to other Classes.
  • Learners were not interested in attending teaching sessions over the radios. Some students who might have been interested in those sessions were not aware of these radio sessions (communication challenges).
  • Learners are waiting for the second term packages so there is urgent need to produce and distribute them.

To minimise the impacts of the lockdown on the education of the rural youth, there is need for AWOC to continue supporting them. Their enthusiasm and appreciation of the efforts made by AWOC is heartwarming and attest of the importance of social equity in terms of crisis. There was no other alternative due to the COVID-19 lockdown apart from the materials they received from the centre. AWOC will continue to manage and overcome the challenges associated with the current context, and the team hope to secure funds to be able to keep supporting the learners and conduct follow-up visits.


COVID-19: Green Recovery through Tree Planting

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil*, SFA Co-Director and Founder of Abundance

 

Multiple benefits of Tree Planting

Recently, a senior policymaker in Eswatini shared with me a video of mass tree planting in Pakistan as a COVID-19 recovery and climate action project. Construction workers and others who lost jobs due to COVID-19 were given $3 per day to raise seedlings and plant trees while following safety measures of wearing masks and maintaining safe distancing. Pakistan’s tree planting project is inspiring; and is part of the country’s 10 Billion Tree Tsunami programme. The origin of the project was before the pandemic, when in 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan launched this ambitious 5 year project to counter the impacts of climate change; rising temperatures, flooding, droughts and other extreme weather. Their ambitious goal is to plant 10 billion trees across the country in 5 years.

In Africa, a similar ambitious tree planting project was implemented by Ethiopia. The highlight was a single day in July 2019, on which people across the country turned out to help with planting 350 million tree seedlings. Recently, in the UK, the Committee on Climate Change wrote a letter to their Prime Minister urging for increased tree planting to be at the heart of the green recovery. As part of COVID-19 recovery, there is need to create thousands of jobs in a short time, which does not require specialist skills and can provide income to the most poor and vulnerable, while at the same time allowing for social distancing. Tree planting ticks all the boxes and additionally, offer the best returns for government spending while moving closer to reaching net-zero emissions. Furthermore, a greener country attracts more tourists and tourism recovery plans are part of post COVID-19 strategies.

Zoonotic diseases and Deforestation

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light that zoonotic diseases that spread from animals to humans and is a sign of how interconnected health of humans and health of ecosystems are. There is a direct correlation of pandemics to deforestation and the health of our ecosystems. For example, the Ebola virus disease; in which bats were the carriers of the virus, spread to non-forest human inhabited areas due to forest fragmentation (which reduced habitats for bats). Deforestation is likely to increase frequent contact between infected wild animals and humans, increasing the threat of pandemics in the future. Hence, it is essential that we protect our existing forests and not encroach into them for expanding our agricultural farms and human settlements.

Forests and Climate Change

Globally, we lose trees at a rate of 50 soccer fields per minute. The forests in our world are some of the most valuable resources we have; besides providing oxygen, cleaning our air, providing a source of food, construction material, and habitats for biodiversity to thrive, most importantly, they are important line of defence against climate change. The United Nations have stated that we have about ten years to prevent irreversible damage from climate change. Tree planting is the easiest, cheapest and most effective climate solution.

However, we need to be careful and not look at tree planting as a panacea for everything. Planting trees in the wrong ecosystems could have adverse impacts for biodiversity and human well-being. Trees emit complex chemicals, some of which warm the planet and the dark leaves of trees can also raise temperatures by absorbing sunlight. Hence, before embarking on tree planting projects, a thorough, detailed, ecological understanding is critical for conservation and reforestation efforts to succeed.

Tree planting and post COVID recovery

Trees are a symbol of life and as we move towards a post-COVID-19 world, tree planting is likely to be part of the mix of projects that countries will implement. The attraction towards tree planting cannot be denied as they support green recovery pathways while providing multiple wins of job creation and resilience building for climate change. However, we need to look at recovery plans holistically, be informed by science and ensure that when we do tree planting, it is the right tree, at the right place for the right purpose.

 

* Dr Pullanikkatil is chairperson of the National Committee (Tourism and Economic Recovery Committee; Unlocking Climate Finance)  set up by the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs in the Kingdom of Eswatini that supports post COVID-19 recovery. The ideas in this article were inspired from discussions with committee members.


Poetry from Malawi

By Yonah Trywell Mwandila, Malawi hub member

 

COVID-19

I am called Corona Virus.
Born in 2019, have already paralyzed operations, bodily and spiritually.

I am called Covid 19.
My moto is to perish human life on earth.
With no age limit, will know me through cough, fever and struggling for breath.

I am Corona Virus.
My greatest enemy is Ministry of Health,
when commanding people to wash hands with soap regularly, no hand shaking, wearing masks, social distancing and having few people in any gatherings.

I am Covid 19
I hate quarantine operations
my spreading cycle is easily broken
paying deaf ears to prayers I enjoy.


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