COVID-19: Response In Africa
International Medical Corps has already been working closely with Burundi’s Ministry of Health (MoH) and other key stakeholders to protect the country from Ebola, and has leveraged these preparedness activities to support the country’s COVID-19 contingency plans. Our team activated 10 COVID-19 steering committees in 10 health districts and trained rapid response teams, establishing district-based coordination in the provinces of Muyinga, Ngozi, Kirundo and Kayanza, bordering Rwanda and Tanzania. With support from International Medical Corps staff from the DRC, the Burundi mission has provided training on COVID-19 for almost 600 healthcare providers and provided training of trainers for an additional 67 MoH personnel. Since the start of the pandemic, the country team also has helped the government conduct screening and follow-up at Bujumbura International Airport, examining incoming passengers from countries with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and it has provided training on COVID-19 risks communication to more than 1,000 health and non-health personnel at the airport and the hotels where suspected cases are quarantined. Today, our Burundi team continues to help the MoH expand COVID-19 response capacity at the provincial level, strengthening provincial training committees, setting up district rapid response teams and improving IPC and WASH conditions in health facilities, including five provincial hospitals, refugee camps and points of entry. We also began constructing COVID-19 triage units at the five provincial hospitals we serve. Through a local partner, International Medical Corps continues to conduct community outreach and education programs through engagement with religious and administrative leaders.
According to Cameroon’s medical authorities, more than 200,000 children due to receive routine vaccinations have not received them on schedule since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Parents are refusing to take their children to hospitals out of fear that they may get infected with the virus. Cameroonian doctors are warning that without the vaccines, there is increased risk for children to catch preventable diseases, such as diphtheria, measles and tetanus. In Cameroon, International Medical Corps has been responding to COVID-19 by screening patients, training healthcare workers on prevention and treatment, raising awareness in refugee camps of COVID-19 and how to prevent it, and distributing PPE to frontline health staff. Since March 27, our team has been implementing a COVID-19 response and prevention project in the Minawao refugee camp in the Far North, which hosts more than 60,000 refugees, and where malnutrition is widespread. To date, health teams have trained 26 health workers and 165 outreach volunteers in COVID-19 prevention, screened 3,547 patients for COVID-19 and reached 112,859 people with COVID-19 prevention messaging. Our community health workers in the Far North have also distributed 28,104 items of hygiene and PPE. In Cameroon’s East region, we have trained 93 community health workers who have reached 60,041 people in vulnerable communities with COVID-19 prevention education. We also recently started a gender-based violence (GBV) program in the East region that seeks to improve access to GBV services in a COVID-19 context among 8,000 women and children.
Central African Republic
International Medical Corps was asked by the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to lead CAR’s Community Engagement Committee, a consortium that also includes Oxfam, the Danish Refugee Council and Concern Worldwide, to support the country’s COVID-19 response. In collaboration with CAR’s Ministry of Health, the committee is organizing and coordinating efforts between NGOs and donor communities on COVID-19 activities, to ensure that there are no gaps or overlaps in programming. Currently, to the relief of the humanitarian community, there are no recorded cases in the PK3 displacement camp. Our CAR team has submitted a proposal to implement COVID-19 response activities in CAR’s capital city of Bangui and will target more than 373,500 community members. The program will strengthen response capacity for COVID-19 detection at the primary healthcare level, improve community hygiene activities and improve psychosocial support for infected patients and their communities. The program will also target a large number of children who live on the streets and represent a very large and vulnerable portion of CAR’s urban youth.
The Chad country mission closed in June 2020. Before the closing, International Medical Corps completed a two-month project responding to COVID-19 at Chad’s UNION district hospital in Ndjamena. Our team trained 50 Ministry of Health staff on how to use PPE, how to detect COVID-19 symptoms and triage patients, and how to implement IPC measures. In addition, our team provided 10,060 non-sterile gloves, 600 gowns, 1,240 pieces of soap, 120 units of bleach, 650 face masks, 10 bottles of hand sanitizer gel and 20 pairs of protective scrubs to the hospital.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
International Medical Corps is supporting 90 facilities in the DRC with COVID-19 activities, including 88 primary healthcare facilities and two hospitals. So far, 12,696 people have been screened for COVID-19 at these facilities, with 137 suspected cases. To date, the DRC team has provided COVID-19 training for 47 healthcare personnel, 33 community health workers and 16 Ministry of Health (MoH) staff, and is training additional MoH staff at 82 health facilities on COVID-19 IPC measures. Current national COVID-19 preparedness and response activities in the DRC are centered in the capital city of Kinshasa, but International Medical Corps’ network of screening and referral units (SRUs)—set up over the past 18 months to fight DRC’s Ebola epidemic—have the potential to conduct wide-scale COVID-19 screenings. International Medical Corps has set up 95 such facilities in 11 health zones along the border of eastern DRC. So far, 91 International Medical Corps staff members working in SRUs in and around Goma have undergone training on COVID-19 case management and IPC measures.
The country team continues to participate in national and local-level COVID-19 coordination meetings with different bodies, including government agencies and other implementing partners. Between mid-April, when we began the process and late June, our team screened 33,417 patients for the virus in facilities we support, referring 186 suspected COVID-19 cases for further observation and possible testing. The team trained 715 frontline staff and supported 63 health facilities. Training included staff from International Medical Corps, our partners, Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and host-community health workers. Also, 8,957 community residents participated in COVID-19 awareness-raising activities. The team has indirectly reached 1.1 million beneficiaries through mass-media campaigns that include banners, posters, fliers and radio messages. Unsettled security conditions in recent weeks have hampered efforts to update these figures. Our training has focused on COVID-19 awareness, how to identify symptoms of the disease, the proper use and handling of personal protection equipment (PPE), case management and psychological first aid (PFA). Our team in the town of Dollo, in southeastern Ethiopia near the country’s border with Somalia, is screening refugee traffic at the Dollo Ado reception center for evidence of fever.
International Medical Corps in Libya mobilized quickly to address the threat posed by COVID-19, training rapid response teams working for the country’s National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) about the virus and its symptoms; its prevention, transmission and treatment; how to conduct contact tracing; and how to use PPE. International Medical Corps was the first international NGO operating in the country to support the NCDC by donating PPE for its rapid response teams. We are also training health staff in all of our supported facilities on how to respond to suspected cases of COVID-19, as well as providing supplies of necessary PPE. Starting in June, in response to needs identified in consultation with the Libyan government, we began supporting five hospitals with training and PPE, while strengthening their capacity to triage and isolate COVID-19 patients. Our efforts have focused on the southern town of Sabha, which currently is experiencing some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases. We have a team of mental health counselors supporting our primary healthcare teams at three field locations, and preparing culturally appropriate COVID-19 messages for an online awareness-raising campaign on a country-specific COVID-19 Facebook page. The counselors are working with our MHPSS specialist to train municipality emergency committees on psychological first aid and to deal with the combined stress of COVID-19 and the ongoing conflict. We also have adjusted our GBV programs, switching to a remote case-management strategy that ensures survivors can still access our services during restrictions on movement outside the home. Finally, we are training social workers from the Libyan Ministry of Social Affairs about the heightened risks of GBV that can occur as restrictions on movement tighten and curfews force more survivors to spend prolonged periods inside their homes with their abusers.
Though approximately half of all COVID-19 confirmed cases in Mali are in Bamako, recent weeks have seen a surge of cases in Timbuktu and Mopti, threatening displacement sites where families live in tents in close proximity to one another. International Medical Corps’ Mali mission has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in places where we have active programming, including Timbuktu and Ségou, by training health staff, disinfecting key public places and health facilities, and distributing drugs and WASH supplies. We have so far reached 35 health facilities with COVID-19 activities and trained 99 frontline medical staff on COVID-19 treatment and prevention. As part of the national COVID-19 Task Force of the Health Cluster, International Medical Corps’ Mali team meets regularly with governmental counterparts in the capital city of Bamako to determine needs and provide technical support, collaborating with such partners as ECHO, OFDA, WHO and UNICEF. The team also has worked with the MoH to fully disinfect 10 mosques, six community health centres, one referral health centre and one regional hospital in Timbuktu. Subsequently, we provided WASH kits to these 18 facilities, along with two women’s centres that provide gender-based violence (GBV) support. In addition, International Medical Corps is working with religious leaders in Timbuktu to deploy volunteers to distribute and oversee the use of hand sanitizers and handwashing stations in mosques, and disseminate COVID-19 prevention education materials. In Ségou, our Mali team has distributed handwashing materials to 19 health clinics and 39 public sites, and launched COVID-19 activities in 19 communities in the San health district, including prevention education and the distribution of hygiene supplies. International Medical Corps health volunteers have reached 6,213 people with COVID-19 information since March. To ensure the safety of volunteers and frontline health staff in Mali, International Medical Corps has provided more than 3,484 PPE and hygiene items.
In Nigeria, International Medical Corps has been responding to COVID-19 by training community volunteers on IPC and referral pathways for health services, and serving on the national COVID-19 Task Force. To date, we have trained 1,873 community volunteers who are delivering health education in vulnerable communities and seven internally displaced person (IDP) camps. They have reached 87,162 people with COVID-19 messaging and delivered 1,514 sanitation supplies, including hand sanitizer, face masks and chlorine for water treatment. Our WASH team has collaborated with other humanitarian partners to distribute 444,940 bars of soap to households and has put in place an additional 107 handwashing stations in IDP camps. Our nutrition team continues to provide services through 15 outpatient therapeutic programs, providing COVID-19 prevention messages during nutrition screenings for 24,675 children. Our food-security and livelihoods team continues to provide cash-based transfers and commodities to 130,896 people, while providing education on COVID-19. On July 1, the country team started a new COVID-19 program in Damboa that will support WASH activities at five IDP camps, provide supplies and capacity-building support for IPC to four health facilities, and ensure that protection and GBV prevention are integral to all activities. This project will target 166,000 beneficiaries, including 99,000 IDPs.
In Somalia, International Medical Corps is coordinating its response to COVID-19 through the Ministry of Health at both the federal and regional government levels, and is a member of the Inter-Agency Risk Communication and Community Engagement Taskforce. In Galkacyo South—about 500 miles northwest of Mogadishu—we completed a COVID-19 isolation centre within the Galkacyo South Hospital. Officials from the Galmudug Region’s Ministry of Health presided over a formal opening of the facility in mid-June. Elsewhere, we have donated PPE to humanitarian partners in Jowhar, including humanitarian-aid organization INTERSOS, the Federal Ministry of Health in Mogadishu and COVID-19 isolation centers. In addition, we have trained 604 staff on IPC measures, how to recognize COVID-19 symptoms, how the virus spreads and how to use PPE. Our GBV team has conducted focus group discussions with women and girls across our four operational areas, asking what they know about COVID-19, how they receive information and what their main concerns are about the virus. We have conducted a baseline survey in the form of a COVID-19 knowledge, attitudes, and practices (KAP) assessment in our areas of work in Somalia, conducting the survey remotely to avoid the risk of transmission. We included phone-based household questionnaires and key informant interviews with several stakeholders, including Ministry of Health staff, traditional birth attendants, traditional healers, health center committees and religious leaders. International Medical Corps-supported health facilities in four of Somalia’s 18 regions continue to screen beneficiaries for signs of the virus. To help with messaging, we have posted materials in the Somali language about COVID-19 at all our offices and in health facility waiting areas.
International Medical Corps continues to help lead the pandemic response in South Sudan, serving as co-lead of the country’s COVID-19 Case Management and IPC Taskforce. Our country director also has joined the South Sudan NGO Forum Steering Committee as an advisory member to assist the group with COVID-related advocacy, planning, and preparedness. An infectious disease unit (IDU) that we co-manage in Juba was formally inaugurated on July 10 as the sole medical facility in the capital capable of treating COVID-19 patients. The facility was built in 2018 and handed over to International Medical Corps the following year to prepare for a possible spread of Ebola from neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, with the onset of the pandemic, it was reconfigured and expanded to handle COVID-19 patients. Since March, we have provided medical, nutritional and psychosocial support to more than 100 suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients admitted to the IDU. International Medical Corps also is looking into building a Level III intensive-care unit at the Juba IDU in response to a formal request from South Sudan’s Ministry of Health and the WHO. If completed as envisioned, the facility would be the first of its kind in the country that would be fully accessible to the public and capable of providing comprehensive critical care, including life-support systems. It would also allow for eventual teaching and researching components. In other areas, we are screening all entrants to protection-of-civilian (PoC) camps in Juba Malakal and Wau. As of mid-July, we have screened almost 20,000 people in all three camps. In addition, we have put in place an adapted triaging system at the PoCs to pre-sort patients symptomatically to reduce transmission in the wards. Since April, we have provided on-the-job training and supportive supervision to more than 250 healthcare staff at the Juba IDU and PoCs on case management, standard precautions of IPC, safe patient transportation, psychological first aid (PFA), pharmaceutical dispensary, medical and PPE logistics. As of June 30, we had reached 38,362 people residing at the three PoCs with risk communication messages, which mainly focused on prevention messages.
Our Sudan team works mainly in the Darfur Region, as well as in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where our COVID-19-related response has included training of both office-based and clinical staff about the virus, its symptoms and behaviour, and essential IPC measures, including the importance of PPE for all staff. Our sites at Umdukun, near Darfur’s western border with Chad, as well as Jebel Mara to the east, have established local-level Emergency Preparedness and Planning committees that conduct weekly meetings. Sessions conducted at our health facilities provided nearly 3,330 people with health education messages about prevention of COVID-19. In addition, we reached 6,389 people at small community-level gatherings with messages about prevention and detection of COVID-19, and trained 25 Village Health Committee members in the Umkhere area of Central Darfur on community surveillance of COVID-19 as well as how to promote proper hygiene. We recently held a coordination meeting with Ministry of Health and WHO representatives focusing on the statewide COVID response. International Medical Corps is providing support for COVID-related activities at both state and local levels. International Medical Corps-supported isolation centres in the towns of Golo and Zalingie are now admitting COVID-19 cases. We have also supported the Ministry of Health in establishing a new isolation centre with a capacity of 25 beds in the town of Nertiti. We held COVID-19 awareness sessions in all three areas, in addition to Umdukun. We have also engaged in awareness-raising efforts, including the printing and distribution of fliers and COVID-related banners through the State Ministry of Health on health education, as well as IPC guidelines. We have helped create radio dramas featuring COVID-19 themes that are broadcast four times a week. In addition, our experts are invited to the radio station every week to provide key COVID-19 related messages to the community. International Medical Corps has purchased and distributed hygiene supplies through the Ministry of Health. We reached 20,533 people with COVID-19 messages and trained 27 health workers on triage and case management. In addition, we distributed 1,000 pairs of gloves and 420 bars of soaps to seven health facilities in Umdukun.
International Medical Corps’ Zimbabwe team continues to participate remotely in key meetings with donors and partners. Through the existing Amalima Project, the Zimbabwe team and partners have collaborated with the Ministry of Health and Child Care to develop educational materials for communities on the COVID-19 pandemic. The program has so far developed 100,000 fliers and 12,000 posters on COVID-19 prevention for communities in Bulilima, Mangwe, Gwanda and Tsholotsho. Those materials have been widely distributed in partnership with more than 300 community health workers who serve in vulnerable communities. We helped provide 300 bicycles for these community health workers—enabling them to more easily reach remote areas with COVID-19 messaging—as well as 6,000 reusable masks. In the past two weeks, we have reached 820 community members through COVID-19 awareness-raising activities. The team also started two new projects this month. In the first, we are providing WASH and community hygiene promotion activities for more than 31,000 people in Binga, one of the most impoverished, marginalized districts in Zimbabwe, which faces severe water scarcity. We are implementing the second project across three provinces and targeting 17 health facilities, aiming to rehabilitate WASH facilities within COVID-19 isolation areas.