As countries across Africa test, trace contacts, and confirm cases of COVID-19, at VillageReach we are listening, learning and adjusting. I have been receiving regular updates from VillageReach Country Directors across our country offices in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi and Mozambique. For weeks now, we have focused our attention on how to prepare our staff and support our government partners in the ministries of health (MoHs). This has meant employing the best methods for rapid-response communication because the first-line of attack is to fight misinformation.
With preparedness and planning well underway, we saw MoHs on high alert practically from the start when COVID-19 turned for the worst in Wuhan. Yet when the virus can grow exponentially, the response by many African governments changes day-by-day and the ability to avert the worst relies on collaboration with NGOs like VillageReach and its partners, foundations, and the entire ecosystem of international development agencies.
South Africa (SA) is now in weeks of lockdown, but with challenges such as clean water for frequent handwashing and the ability to self-quarantine, what is currently just a few cases could spread to thousands in a very short time. President Ramaphosa and Health Minister Mkhize stepped up quickly and set a strong example of how to address the outbreak early on. Innovations, such as drive-through COVID-19 testing stations, represent new tactics that SA continues to take.
Our support to government partners has so far evolved to crystallize around the dissemination of accurate and timely information, strengthening of coordination at various levels of the response, and enhancing chances for continuity.
COVID-19 preparedness relies on providing sources of accurate information. It is a battle that we are fighting around the globe — misinformation is spreading like wildfire across social media. We think we can help with this and are working closely with governments to ameliorate the malady of misinformation.
In Malawi, VillageReach is advising the government on how best to use Chipatala cha pa Foni, the ‘health center by phone’ solution. To aid in addressing what they can expect for increased call volume, COVID-19 voice messages are getting integrated into the interactive voice response platform.
On Wednesday, Malawi also announced its K157bn response plan as President Mutharika declared a state of national disaster.
In DRC and Mozambique, similar efforts, including developing rapid-response communication solutions, are underway. VillageReach DRC is working with the Communications Commission of the CNC to apply the WHO and Praekelt.org HealthAlert solution that provides COVID-19 updates via WhatsApp and Facebook. VillageReach Mozambique is now collaborating with Viamo to develop the messaging capability of existing MoH services, AloVida and Plataforma Educativa de Informação Sobre a Saúde (PENSA), which will also get linked with the Health Alert service.
News updates and information is a start, but health system strengthening will be our biggest ally in fighting COVID-19. In this regard, we are working with others: in DRC, for example, to help the MoH to streamline the response using a multisectoral approach.
Finally, in Liberia and Mozambique we are working with authorities to ensure supply chains continue to function as an uninterrupted distribution of routine vaccines and essential medicines, and supporting health workers as the backbone to ensuring every community has the best shot at staying healthy. And we plan to do our share to make sure that Africa’s response is robust enough. We are building the bridge as we walk on it.