Red Cross on the frontline of Covid fight

By Hilary Mare

THE novel Covid-19 pandemic that first erupted in China before spreading like a veld fire to the rest of world has created a historic health dilemma that has hit the poor hardest, particularly in small and vulnerable economies such as Namibia.

At the backdrop of this health crisis, the Namibian government is facing an unprecedented time in which ‘extraordinary’ sacrifice from all stakeholders is not an option but a must.

Toiling on the frontline, the Namibia Red Cross Society has been visible particularly in the Khomas region where at least 100 volunteers have been doing health education, community engagement and distribution of PPEs to some of the most vulnerable groups of the society.

This initiative was made possible by Coca-Cola Foundation which recently afforded the association nearly N$1 million to amplify its ability to respond to a growing health crisis.

In an interview with Confidente this week around their Covid-19 response project, the Red Cross Namibia Khomas regional coordinator, Elizabeth Shakujungua highlighted that they sought to assist the vulnerable communities in 10 constituencies in Windhoek by helping them curb Covid-19, on a household level.

“What we also pushed to do was to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus and to contain the outbreak. Apart from this, our project has been instrumental in supporting public confidence in the system and outbreak response measures coupled with promoting effective community engagement,risk communication, behavioural change and hygiene promotion approaches that motivate action and promote participation while also reducing stigma and possible violence,” said Shakujungua.

She went on to say that owing to the engagement that has been undertaken by Red Cross, more people in the target communities have come to learn and understand the new virus and also learned how to prevent them from contracting it.

“Communities are taking precautions and they are taking the virus seriously. They are also now cognisant about the virus and how it affects them mentally and emotionally and the fact that it affects the economy of Namibia. Community engagement thus far has assisted the volunteers engaging the public with the support of other partners such as NGOs and the Ministry of Health.”

Owing to Coca-Cola Foundation’s donor funds, Red Cross has also managed to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) namely masks, gloves, hand sanitisers, disinfectants, tippy tap containers and water jerry cans. They have also made available and distributed health packs containing a face cloth, a bar of soap, two sets of gloves, masks and a 300ml sanitiser to community members. Visibility material for the volunteers as well as toolkits translated into the different vernacular languages to enable volunteers to be able to engage community members in their native languages were used as part of the engagement strategy.

Indeed as with all projects, Red Cross also endured some challenges. Speaking about these, Shakujungua said: “At first, the communities found it hard to adhere to the new restricted regulations in terms of social distancing. Also getting volunteers on the ground to curb the virus quickly by doing community engagement when national lockdowns were being enforced was also a key challenge that we also managed to overcome.”

She added that to further fight the virus effectively, Red Cross requires more funding in terms of relief and food packages to support communities especially those who have less or no sources of income due to job losses and inadequate resources to support families.

“Despite this, I would like to acknowledge that Coca-Cola’s donation made a great difference in terms of community engagement and support on the ground to enable communities to look after themselves. It also made a huge difference capacitating and empowering volunteers to work effectively and carry out positive health education,” concluded Shakujungua.