Ask an Expert with Sarah Klassen and Jon Stone

How can early action prevent the spread of COVID-19 in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities?

Sarah Klassen from Start Network and Jon Stone from the Risk-informed Early Action Partnership Secretariat (REAP) joined our Chief Programme Officer, Patricia Atkinson, for this Ask an Expert session.

30 April 2020

During the event, we had some questions that we didn’t have time to answer. Our guests kindly took the time to answer them afterwards.

How do your partners deliver relief work under the impact of COVID-19? What can they no longer do? What new things are they trying?

We are working with local and national actors to implement COVID-19 projects. One of the challenges we are facing is our ability to access vulnerable communities. This is why exemptions to curfews or lockdowns for humanitarian workers and privileged access to personal protective equipment is really important. We are ensuring that staff aren’t entering communities unless it’s absolutely essential and are using technology to limit the contact that our partners have. For example, cash to support food purchases can be delivered through mobile phones, so we don’t need to deliver the aid in person.

What should we expect to see happen in places like Africa – the media seems to focus on US and Europe, but not so much on what the impact elsewhere?

There is an urgent need to not only respond to, but prevent COVID-19 in low-income countries. We are seeing the health systems of rich countries struggle under the pressure, so it’s concerning to think about places where health systems are very weak or where there are already ongoing humanitarian crises. This is why it’s important to act early and prevent the spread of COVID-19 to those most at risk.

When we have seen richer nations fail, and measures like ‘washing hands’ not being sufficient, how can humanitarian early action really be effective?

We have been gathering evidence to show the impact of early action in low-income countries during disease outbreaks. For example, this case study looks at how we used early action to anticipate a cholera outbreak in Malawi and presents a cost-benefit analysis of the intervention compared to a later response. There is evidence that acting early can save costs for communities, health facilities and humanitarian organizations.

Do you foresee any policy changes in the way we interact with patients (from the sonographer point of you)?

COVID-19 will continue to impact the entire health system. We are already seeing cases where people are dying of non-COVID-19 related illnesses because they simply can’t access health services due to the strain that COVID-19 is causing. This is why it’s really important to ensure that the projects we put in place can help to strengthen the existing national health system. Strong coordination with local and national response mechanisms, partnerships with ministries of health and education, as well as collaboration with other humanitarian actors involved in the response is important.

Are institutions such as SVS, RDMS, etc already working on it?

There are so many great actors working to respond to and prevent COVID-19, and our network focuses on civil society organizations. In the context of COVID-19, local civil society is so important. For example, communities play an important role in the support for screening, referrals of suspected cases, contact follow-up, monitoring of the outbreak, and communication initiatives. Sensitization activities, which are proven to change attitudes toward and understanding of disease, are more effective when the community and local leaders are fully involved.