The United Nations estimates that over the next six months, as many as 6,000 children around the world could die every day from preventable causes because of the burden of COVID-19 on routine health services. Yes – you read that correctly. Six thousand children. Every day.
It’s expected that the largest percentage of these deaths will be in Africa. On the UNICEF site, the UK’s executive director Sacha Deshmukh said: “This pandemic is having far-reaching consequences for all of us, but it is undoubtedly the biggest and most urgent global crisis children have faced since the second world war.”
Global Volunteers Tanzania staff in the Ukwega Ward have maintained a rigorous door-to-door campaign to inform families enrolled in the Reaching Children’s Potential Project how to optimize their protection from coronavirus. This has included one-on-one meetings, workshops, coordination with district government programs, and announcements by loud speaker in the five villages of the Ward since the crisis began. Ipalamwa General Clinic Manager Anna Victor Mwenda, Team Leader Winnie Mshindo, and Nurse Midwife Zahoro Mlekwa Sakala traveled from village to village the last day of March and the first two days of April.
“We got a very good response because we first went to the village offices and talked to the leaders, and then went around the respective areas,” Winnie explained. “We have been receiving questions from family members who have parents living in big cities. We advised them to either let them stay there and take precautions, or if they travel to the village, to be isolated for 14 days before contacting local people here.”
Winnie continued, “After this campaign, village leaders called community members in small groups to reinforce what we announced on the diseases and they made sure that all houses have the local hand-washing stations.” Yet, despite on-going instruction, the caregivers’ efforts are slowed by the very nature and fabric of village life – interdependence, mutuality, and togetherness, which discourage social distancing.
“Africans believe in something that is difficult to render in English. We call it “ubuntu, botho”. It means the essence of being human. You know when it is there and when it is absent. It speaks about humaneness, gentleness, hospitality, putting yourself out on behalf of others, being vulnerable. It embraces compassion and toughness. It recognizes that my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”Bishop Desmond Tutu
Although the Ukwega Ward hasn’t yet reported any cases of COVID-19, we expect that in time, our partner villages are affected. The consequences could be tragic, as clinic services and pharmaceuticals are severely limited. Global Volunteers is committed to working through traditional communications channels on sensible and effective messaging to maximize village compliance with prevention strategies. Meanwhile, all patients at the Ipalamwa General Clinic are required to thoroughly wash their hands and wear masks. Their temperature is checked before being admitted.
Our Reaching Children’s Potential (RCP) caregivers use flip charts to illustrate preventative measures, COVID-19 symptoms, interventions and how to obtain care with RCP families during home visits. At these meetings, they demonstrate and reinforce mask wearing, proper hand washing with soap and sanitized water and social distancing, and supply liquid soap produced by the RCP family co-ops. Despite modeling these practices, and patiently repeating these lessons, the caregivers say they know that a percentage of families remain skeptical that the “invisible risk” of COVID-19 is real. Because the Ward’s normal rate of illness and death hasn’t increased, and no individual has contracted the virus many people are inclined to believe the confusing government messages discounting the crisis.
Global Volunteers is actively raising funds to support this critical communications campaign and to supply personal protection equipment to RCP and clinic staff, and masks to families. We want to provide two face masks, sewn by the women’s co-ops, to each of the 520 RCP families in Ukwega Ward. To do so, we must raise $1,040. If you would like to help in this direct way, please donate.
The greatest risk of virus transmission in the Ukwega Ward is travel between the villages and urban areas. The U.S. Embassy in Tanzania reports the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the capital city of Dar es Salaam is extremely high. Despite limited official reports, all evidence points to exponential growth of the epidemic in Dar and other locations in Tanzania. Many hospitals in Dar es Salaam have been overwhelmed in recent weeks. Limited hospital capacity throughout Tanzania could result in life-threatening delays for medical care, including for those with COVID-19. In Iringa, the city closest to the Ukwega Ward, cases of the coronavirus have been increasing. There has been an official report of 25 deaths throughout the country; however, civilians believe that the number is easily over 1,000 deaths. Currently, no updated statistics have been released from the national government to the public, as tourism and commerce have officially resumed.
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