Long Read

The impact of COVID-19 in Africa and Asia – our current activities

As Simavi works in more than ten countries in Africa and Asia, we are very concerned about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in these different countries. For many years now, we work with local partners, governments and communities to improve the health and well-being of women, girls and their families. We always look for the most effective ways to deploy our expertise, resources and network in order to support those in need and make sure we leave no one behind.

This article gives a short overview of the situation in the countries where we work and of our approach and how we adapt our work and activities to the current reality of the pandemic. We are aware that every week, every day even, the situation changes. Current examples might, therefore, be outdated when reading this. We will keep track of all activities and initiatives in the countries where we work and give regular updates.

Also, see:

Our vision on COVID-19 and our work

Working from our core values

The current situation and context are different per country, sometimes even per district or community. This means that we cannot offer one blueprint solution or implement one strategy to support our local partners in their current activities.

Esther de Vreede, Director of Programme Implementation at Simavi: “We work with 60 organisations in ten countries and use a tailor-made approach for every country, even for every partnership and programme. Based on adaptive programming principles, our approach is country, context and partner-specific to understand what is needed most in each context and adjust our work based on informed decision-making processes.”

Even under these circumstances, we work from the same core values:

  • Leave no one behind. Social inclusion is one of our key values. Every person should be able to understand and have access to the information provided.
  • The do-no-harm principle. To avoid exposing people to additional risks through our actions.
  • Women-centred approach. In general, women and girls face greater challenges in achieving a healthy life than men and boys. Also, in this crisis, women are disproportionally affected.

“We use a tailor-made approach for every country, even for every partnership and programme. Our approach is very country, context and partner specific.”

Country information

Just like in Europe, in all countries where we work, governments announced restrictions from March onwards and preventive measures were taken. Of course, this impacted our work and activities as well. Read below what we initiatied to limit the effects of the corona outbreak. Even though not being complete, this information makes us realize again that we are all affected by COVID-19 and global efforts are needed.

For an overview of all restrictions per country please refer to the International SOS website.

A selection of stories: how Simavi adapts its programmes 

*The following programme adaptions are still in place and effective.

May 20th, 2020

Country: India | Programme: More than Brides Alliance

To understand the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of adolescents and their families, our local partners have conducted online studies in different regions of India. They investigated how many people are aware of the virus, where they received the information if they have the correct information, and what the impact of the lockdown has on their health and wellbeing.

Additionally, food shortages and lack of employment are major challenges that people face. Also, the investigation shows that adolescent girls have limited access to sanitary pads and IFA tablets. Our partners are taking action to solve these issues, like teaching girls how to make their own sanitary pads, or temporarily take over distribution of pads, and IFA tablets from the government.

Another initiative, in response to COVID-19 in India, is the creation of local helplines for girls, to substitute the temporarily, ineffective governmental helpline. Partners receive calls throughout the day with questions related to COVID-19 and other issues. They share information on COVID-19 prevention, immunity-boosting tips, and support with SRHR related queries i.e. on menstrual irregularities, the lack of sanitary pads, and more.

Country: Kenya | Programme: Watershed

In Kenya, there are great inequalities in relation to access to safe drinking water throughout the country. Urban areas tend to receive piped water from formal Water Service Providers, but more remote areas are often left out. This means that people living in remote areas are often unable to wash their hands hygienically and women are not able to take care of their menstrual hygiene. Through and alongside our local partners in Kenya, Simavi advocates and lobbies to ensure people living in these areas can claim their rights to access to water and are part of the decision-making processes on a governmental level.

Also, we have adapted programme activities to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. One example of this is the Wottazela radio campaign, which focuses on information about hygiene, clean and safe water. A similar campaign was also launched previously in Uganda. The radio campaign is used to inform people about safety and health measures in relation to COVID-19. Citizen feedback will be collected by conducting a poll and will be used to frame our message in further work on access to clean water.

In the fight against COVID-19, government institutions often leave out women, and girls and other marginalised people in their decision-making processes. Therefore, we join forces with Civil Society Organisations (CSO’s) and citizens to make sure they are included and being heard as well, and that they have access to essential information and services. Finally, we realize that close communication and being connected is more crucial than ever. For this reason, we regularly make use of video calls, such as Zoom, to strengthen our communication and stay connected with all local partners and stakeholders.

Updates from April 30th, 2020 

Country: India | Programme: More than Brides Alliance

Together with our partners in India, we are adapting our work with girls to account for the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are modifying how we communicate with girls and our partners. One of the initiatives is online discussions through video chat. The primary objective is to provide girls with accurate and up-to-date information on COVID-19 and to address their doubts and questions on the pandemic. For example, information about transmission, symptoms, preventive measures, and common myths are discussed. This includes the proper way to wear a face mask, wash hands, how to disinfect phones, among others. The last session also focused on menstrual hygiene and girls were concerned about the scarcity of affordable sanitary napkins due to the lockdown. In collaboration with our partners, we are working to provide girls with the materials they need during this time.

Country: Bangladesh | Programme: Watershed

People in villages and remote areas in Bangladesh often share one washing facility or water well. For this reason, together with Civil Society Organisations, the Water Management Citizen Committees, and other local partners, we share awareness messages on social distancing while fetching water. This is done through loudspeakers, radio and text messages.  

Updates of Thursday, April 23rd, 2020 

Country: Uganda | Programme: GUSO

The total lockdown in Uganda is making it difficult for people to gain access to SRHR information and services, such as access to contraceptives or ARVs (drugs used as treatment and to reduce transmission of a retrovirus such as HIV). Also, according to police reports, sexual and gender-based violence has increased within the last two weeks. With this in mind, the GUSO SRHR Alliance partners, have intensified media campaigns on preventive health and safety measures in relation to Corona. Also, media campaigns are created and used to send messages on the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence.

In addition, peer buddies and expert clients are engaged to deliver ARVs to (young) people living with HIV/Aids, continue the distribution of condoms in communities, and they provide counselling services for the most vulnerable.

Finally, the issues regarding maternal health, access to contraceptives and prevention of SGBV, are being addressed on government level trough advocacy. This is being done through written open advocacy letters, virtual meetings and sharing experiences of vulnerable groups.

Country: Nepal | Programme: Kapilvastu

In Nepal, there are currently 47 confirmed cases of corona infections and fortunately no deaths. To prevent a further outbreak, our local partner SOLID in Nepal, is currently providing hygiene kits containing face masks, clinical gloves, sanitizers and aprons, to health posts throughout the Shivaraj municipality. These materials have already been purchased and are being transported. The mayor of the Shivaraj municipality is offering his help during this process.

Also, we are in constant communication with our field staff on the project sites. Although all field staff members are working from home, there is close contact with pregnant women in the area who are being observed through phone/video calls. If these women need emergency aid; our local staff are helping them, in coordination with the local health post, to receive essential maternal health care. Fortunately, so far, the pregnant women are in good health.

In addition, the Female Community Health Volunteers and our local colleagues collaborate to monitor the arrival of new people from outside their community, in order to make sure, not more people are being infected.  Finally, safety and health measures are being developed to be able to continue our work in the upcoming months.

Updates of Friday, April 17th, 2020

Country: Uganda | Programme: Watershed

In 2019, Simavi collaborated with TRAC FM to raise awareness about water, sanitation and hygiene and to collect citizen feedback through radio and SMS. This radio campaign was called Wottazela (the sound of water). Now, during the COVID-19 outbreak, we are able to reach people in Uganda again by using this approach. It’s an effective and safe way to inform people about safety and health measures in relation to Corona. The new campaign, Wottazela 4.0, has gone live last week. The focus of this campaign will be on hygiene, washing hands, access to clean water and sanitation with special attention to gender equality and social inclusion and other preventive measures. Citizen feedback about this theme was collected by conducting a poll, which received over 1.500 replies.

Country: Various countries where Simavi works

We aim to inform everyone about health and safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus, as access to information is a human right principle. Using modern technology like social media and video are a practical way of disseminating messages in our communities. Together with creative platform ViDi, we have distributed free educative videos about hygiene, preventive measures and health during COVID-19. These videos are available in different languages, such as Swahili, French, Hindi or Bahasa Indonesia. So far, Tanzania, Ghana, India, Burundi, Kenya, and Zambia are the countries with most views, with a total reach of 1.585.000 views.

Country: Ghana | Programme: Golden Line

Together with Ghana Health Services and National Centre for Civic Education, our local colleagues are providing information on COVID-19. We inform locals about how to prevent infection and address myths about the virus. While driving around with a mobile van, information is shared via a megaphone. To be able to reach people in rural areas, jingles and voice messages are recorded. Including flyers and posters, we share these recordings with the Community Information Centers. Another initiative is providing hand-washing facilities for local communities, such as tissues, liquid soaps, sanitizer and containers for waste.

Country: Bangladesh | Programme: Watershed

In Bangladesh, our local colleagues and partners have initiated an awareness campaign on preventive measures in relation to the coronavirus. Together with citizen committees and youth groups, we inform people about health and hygiene measures, such as washing hands and social distancing. Text messaging and loudspeakers are used to inform people about health and safety measures to mitigate the consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak. Also, face masks are distributed. Local government institutions are asked to provide special support to the vulnerable and poor, as they lost their daily income due to the virus outbreak.

Country: India | Programme: More than Brides Alliance

Despite a total lockdown in India, our partners are doing everything they can to keep in touch with girls in communities. In some areas, where girls have access to mobile phones, this is possible through social media. Health-related information – governmental guidelines on COVID-19, but also SRHR information in the form of short video’s – is shared with girls through WhatsApp groups. Girls are also encouraged to record short messages on their daily experiences and share this. In case of need, girls have access to phone numbers of crisis teams of our partners’ staff for support.

Country: Malawi | Programme: More than Brides Alliance

The More Than Brides Alliance Steering Committee organised a consultation on Coronavirus planning, together with their partners. Proceedings from the consultation weave into a structured set of actions guiding how the Malawi Alliance will adapt its programming for girls in the context of the coronavirus. The actions include:

  • Using effective messaging and communications, like making use of community radio, by going door to door, or making use of mobile vans.
  • Mitigating the impact of COVID-19, by supporting hand-washing facilities, protective soaps etc.
  • Working together with other stakeholders for shared action, such as recruiting and training members of community emergency response teams.
  • Employing a ‘whole of society approach’ by collaborating with other civil society actors as well as government at national and district levels around COVID-19 preparedness plans.

Country: Indonesia | Programme: The Perfect Fit

With ‘The Perfect Fit’ programme, Simavi, Kopernik and AYO Indonesia are working together on designing and distributing reusable menstrual pads for women in Indonesia, as well as educating local communities about their rights. By using the product’s development process, it can serve as an entry point to open a dialogue about Menstrual Health. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, they also made protection masks out of leftover Perfect Fit materials. (While the use of masks is not advised in The Netherlands for many good reasons, the situation and advice in some of the countries we work in are different.) Simavi and partners always follow the WHO country advice. The importance of social distancing and particularly handwashing are always key to our partners’ awareness-raising messages.

Country: Tanzania | Programme: Golden Line

In Tanzania, we are supporting the Government by carrying out COVID-19 prevention activities in the Golden Line programme areas.

Our partners in Tanzania are organising a Training of Trainers on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the communities. Approximately 70 people will be trained in small groups, including community health workers, community ambassadors, women’s group facilitators, male change agents and mine owners.

Country: Nepal |  Programme: no field office, but in cooperation with local partners and colleagues

As Nepal was a high-risk zone (being so close to China); Simavi decided to close our field office and suggested not to go for home visits. Slowly, lockdown measures are loosened now and people can visit each other again. We are disseminating hand-washing messages and other preventive measures through local FM radio and other local communication channels.

Our approach: long-term, sustainable solutions

Simavi is not a humanitarian organisation providing relief aid, rather we work on long-term, sustainable solutions. Our response to this crisis is an adaptive management approach. Adjusting to the new situation requires listening carefully to our partners and our beneficiaries to understand what is needed most and what is needed right now. Preventive and proactive activities are anyway always part of our work and a COVID-19 response can and will certainly be integrated into our work. Through our fields of expertise, we:

  • Focus on sustainable behavioural change. Social inclusion in this process is key: we include all stakeholders with a specific focus on those who are at risk of being left behind.
  • Focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Within our work on SRHR, women’s and girls’ health is of particular concern. This is because menstruation, pregnancy, giving birth, and (if necessary) interrupting unwanted pregnancies, have a large impact on women’s health and rights.
  • Focus on water, sanitation and hygiene. By improving access to WASH services, we can improve the lives of women and girls, stop preventable diseases and deaths due to poor sanitation, poor hygienic conditions and contaminated drinking water.

We have been working on global health for almost 95 years. This is what we will continue to do, towards a healthy life for all!

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