COVID-19 in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Ethiopia

The streets of Dhaka in Bangaldesh, normally bustling with life, are more quiet than ever. In comparison with the sudden emptiness of Dutch city-centres, the difference, and the feeling of discomfort that comes with it, is even bigger. During the first days of lock-down in Bangladesh, boats filled with people off to see their families were heading towards rural villages. Now, a travel-ban has been imposed. Luckily so, because many communities in these areas have no access to hospitals, and an outbreak could have horrible consequences.

Travel restrictions have been imposed in Ethiopia too, however especially in the rural areas there is little information about COVID-19 and its consequences, nor about the most effective way to stop its spread. Nepal, where the reported amount of cases isn’t very high yet, has been in lock-down since the beginning of last week, which has meant most NGOs had to cease operations.

In a world that stands still, but at the same time is in such chaos, we need to protect those that are most fragile.
Within our own cities, municipalities, and families, but also on a larger scale: the communities globally that are most fragile, because they have no access to healthcare or clean water to wash their hands.

Max Foundation has access to some of these communities because they constitute our prime beneficiaries, and in more normal times we work with a similar goal: raising awareness about the importance of hygiene, clean water and sanitation, to halt the spread of diseases and fight against child mortality. We will continue this work, especially now, to provide this target group with the information it needs to counter the spread of COVID-19.

How do we do this?

Usually, we host courtyard sessions in which the community gathers, and our Health Promotion Agents living in the communities spread door-to-door information while promoting and selling hygiene, nutrition, and health-related products. In times of a lock-down, these methods aren’t available.

In Bangladesh, we are continuing this work with the telephone as our main medium. There are daily phonecalls and messages sent to local government, community leaders, households, Health Promotion Agents, and local entrepreneurs operating in the low-access communities. Our Monitoring and Evaluation team will continue its work too, to assess whether these messages truly reach and are implemented by the communities, and to advise us on how to adapt our work to obtain even better results.

Our partner in Nepal is in close contact with municipalities, ward chairpersons, school headteachers and the beneficiaries themselves. Before the lock-down our partner distributed as much information as possible, and now the government is taking the initiative in preventing the spread of the virus by, amongst others, the distribution of handwashing facilities. The municipalities are trying to provide the extreme-poor with food and basic necessities. We are supporting the municipalities through our partner wherever we can.  

In Ethiopia too, all hands are on deck. Several NGOs operating in the WASH sector are cooperating with the Ministry of Health and other government institutions in their response to COVID-19. This is done through training and informing the staff of government institutions, health-institutions, and volunteers that inform the low-access communities on the status quo and the hygiene measures that need to be put in place. Our country director Manaye Seyoum is one of the experts working on this. 

So, what's next? Riad Mahmoud, our country-director in Bangladesh, said it beautifully:

“In such situation, we shall not leave our beneficiaries behind without doing anything for them. We are with them. We are not afraid, we are careful; we don't feel alone because we are together.”

And that’s it. We will keep you updated on the situation in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Nepal, and will continue this fight, together with you, to stop this virus from spreading. Globally, even in the most fragile communities.

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