Building resilience to COVID-19 in western Uganda
On March 22nd, Uganda confirmed its first case of COVID-19. As of April 27th, there are 79 confirmed cases. The government has taken significant steps to slow the spread of the disease, prohibiting not only group gatherings, but restricting vehicular transportation to only the transport of goods and essential services. As a result, we have suspended community-level training activities for the time being, and construction proceeds only when and where critical health and safety guidelines can be followed. All staff are either working, typically from home, or at home on paid leave. Over the last month, we have evaluated how we can best support the 600,000 people in the districts we serve while protecting the health and safety of our staff. In practice, this process has entailed:
constant communication with the District Health Offices in Masindi and Kiryandongo to understand their needs.
coalition building with religious and political leaders who are highly influential for the general population.collecting data on the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about COVID-19 among the rural population.
quickly building our own capacity to broadcast messages to rural communities without television or social media access, primarily through radio, automated voice calls, and mobile speaker systems.
Through this process, we have identified critical gaps where we think we can help: Emergency aid to the District Health Offices: The districts have not yet received adequate funding for basic needs like fuel to investigate reported cases, soap for handwashing, and personal protective equipment. This is our first priority. Public information campaign: There is a need for positive, solutions-oriented messaging in local languages both to increase uptake of hygiene and distancing behaviors as well as decrease fear and anxiety. For example, we sponsored two popular local music groups to produce COVID-19 song that promotes key behaviors (you can play them and view the lyrics at the top of this post). Looking forward, we are working with local religious and political leaders to roll-out a month-long, multilingual campaign across radio, public speaker systems, and automated voice messages to improve community awareness and resilience. Health center readiness: Prior to COVID-19, most health centers lacked adequate supplies, such as soap, disinfectant, and handwashing facilities to provide hygienic care. This gap must now be addressed. We are working with the District Health Offices to adequately stock at least 20 priority health centers across the districts. Access to health facilities and medicines is also a key issue we are monitoring, as transportation restrictions and fear of infection at health centers threaten the adequate care of pregnant women and people with other critical health concerns, such as malaria. As a water, sanitation and hygiene organization focused on behavior change, we are well-placed to support the districts in improving the readiness of the population and the health system. In some cases, our expertise on behavior change is valuable. In other cases, like soap supplies, it’s not expertise but simply the funding and secure distribution where we can add value. Throughout this work, we are mindful to ensure that it’s the district government that is leading this response, and that we are simply supporting their effort to the best of our ability. To this end, we are reaching out to new and existing funders to mobilize the resources needed for an adequate response to this immense challenge. If you are in a position where you can financially contribute to this work, we invite you to donate today.