Special Initiatives & Emergency Response

How our partners are reaching the most remote communities during COVID-19

The IKEA Foundation has donated €1.5 million to our partner Start Network to support their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. This donation comes from the €10 million fund we have committed to our partners who are doing incredible work to protect people living in communities that are most vulnerable to the pandemic

Start Network members are currently responding to COVID-19 in more than 20 countries. Many of their members have extensive expertise of working in remote, undeserved communities to stop the spread of infectious diseases, such as cholera, dengue fever and Ebola—but they are also working to prevent the spread of misinformation.

Communicating with communities in Haiti

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased the insecurity of vulnerable groups across Haiti. In a country where the literacy rate is only 61.7 per cent (World Atlas 2016), many people lack clear and inclusive information about the virus. Since the first cases were confirmed, an increasing amount of misinformation has spread.

Misinformation during a public health crisis is not new, as Start Network’s Risk Analysis Advisor Sarah Klassen pointed out during our Ask an Expert session last month.

“One of the really interesting lessons that came out of previous responses to disease outbreaks is the importance of dealing with misinformation,” she said. “As we can see right now, there’s a lot of misinformation circulating around COVID-19. We saw this with Ebola, so we’re not only sharing helpful information but also tackling misinformation.”

To ensure that people receive information from trusted sources, Mercy Corps plans to deliver key messages using new forms of communication. Working closely with the Ministry of Health, they are adapting government messages to address misinformation before it spreads. The team plans to send out SMS blasts (no smart phone required) with vital information, and they are using interactive voice-response technology to make interactive calls, including a rumour quiz that corrects people’s perceptions. They’ve also created a hotline that people can use to give feedback, and they are reaching out to motorcycle taxi drivers, radio hosts, and social-media influencers to equip them with verified information they can share.

Working together in South Sudan

In South Sudan, those most at risk are the people at entry and border points. They tend to have limited resources; poor health infrastructures; lack of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities; and very fragile livelihoods. They have also been largely overlooked by the national preparedness and response plan, leaving humanitarian organisations to fill in the gaps. However, as many of these border locations are not reachable by road, NGOs need to be permanently based there.

For years, Start Network has been advocating for a shift in power and decision-making to those closest to the most vulnerable communities, and COVID-19 has highlighted why this shift is so important.

“This pandemic has really challenged how the humanitarian sector works. Due to lockdowns, we can no longer send in international staff to respond. At Start Network, we have been challenging this way of working, too. We want to see to see local organisations given more funding and decision-making power. It’s the local actors that are leading the way in this pandemic, and we need to prioritise them,” said Sarah Klassen during our Ask an Expert session.

CAFOD is one of the agencies that received funding through Start Fund COVID-19 to respond to the crisis in South Sudan. They are working closely with Catholic Radio Network (CRN), a local partner, who has national coverage. CRN has previously worked in camps for internally displaced people, using loudspeakers and motorbikes with megaphones where there weren’t radio systems or other mass-communication systems. Since radio coverage is low in the area of Raja, they are hoping to recreate this success here and have translated World Health Organization messages into four local languages.

Start Network

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