Mrs Ugochi Ehiahuruike is the Programme Manager of the Justice Development and Peace Caritas (JDPC), Nnewi Catholic Diocese. In this interview with IJEOMA EKWOWUSI, she gives an appraisal of the activities of the organisation during the COVID-19 lockdown and the challenges experienced, proffering solutions on steps to curb the pandemic, among other issues. Excerpts:
JUSTICE Development and Peace Caritas (JDPC) was at the forefront of giving aids and palliatives to the less privileged during the heat of the COVID-19.
How did you go about it?
With respect to COVID -19 as a global pandemic and outbreak for us in Nnewi, Anambra State, we have been giving palliatives to the poorest of the poor, and the marginalised in our society. What we did was going to communities; this time around, we are no longer expecting people to come to the urban setting, we are now visiting them at the rural areas because we believe that the outbreak impoverished a lot of people. By so doing, the majority of them cannot afford even bike money to visit our office, here. So, we have to look for them and visit them at their place of comfort. It is one of the activities we have done. We have even carried out sensitisation programmes at community level, educating them because we have come to realise that primary health care centres are flashpoints of contacting and spreading this virus. We have been able to go down to community level to educate community members on how to keep washing their hands with running waters as one of the government approved protocols for curbing COVID-19 spread. We equally visited the market leaders. We have to sensitise the market traders. We have been able to reach the three major markets in the state; we have been in Eke Awka, Nkwo Nnewi and Main Market, Onitsha, to educate them on how to use sanitisers, running water, mostly alcohol-based sanitisers to ensure that all traders protect themselves from spreading and contacting the coronavirus.
We visited the Special Adviser to the governor of Anambra on health, Hon Simeon Onyemaechi. We have been able to engage him and to share the challenges we have observed having worked at the community level with primary health care centres and officers in charge. We were able to explain and share the challenges we have encountered, have recorded over the months as a result of this outbreak. Again, we sensitised the PHC officers who are so vulnerable in contacting and spreading COVID – 19.
We visited the Executive Secretary of the Anambra State Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr Chioma Ezenyimulu, at the state level, where we engaged them with our findings. From the primary health care centres, we have observed that most primary health care centres lack access to safe water and basic sanitisation and we are encouraging people to keep washing their hands; whereas when they visit the PHCs, there is no available water and basic sanitisation. The whole places are overgrown with bushes.
You cannot tell the people to wash their hands at least 20 seconds every minute when there is no safe water. We keep asking ourselves how they wash these hands when there is no provision of water. And it is the responsibility of the government to provide social amenities. Water is one of the basic amenities that should be provided for the people. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Having engaged this major burden of our challenges and we were able to find out at the PHCs and at the communities at large, we now embarked on the journey with Ministry of Health, where we trained the officers in charge on prevention of the COVID-19 and maintaining proper hygiene in observing the COVID-19 protocols. This time around, we supported them in taking the message down to community levels with respect to their markets. Then, we equally supported them in training the people we call ward health community at the community level that step down the training to community members.
We equally carried out television and radio sensitisation programmes with Abs and Blaze FM. We helped in sensitising the people that COVID – 19 pandemic is real because our people do not believe that the pandemic is real. The point is that we have come to live with COVID – 19 as much as we have come to live with malaria. Most of the COVID-19 symptoms are exactly like those of malaria. The majority of us are living with the coronavirus not knowing that it is it. It is just that we have so much adapted to malaria in the same way that some of us have adapted to the COVID – 19.
More so, reconscientising our people that the coronavirus is real wasn’t that easy because our people were saying it’s all politics but we are coming up with messages that this is not politics; that this is real and is for the safety of our people. These involve the dos and don’ts to ensure that we can curb the contact and spread of COVID – 19 in our state. These activities we have done over the period from March, till date.
What are the challenges you experienced?
As a result of the pandemic and the work we do, we no longer do our one-on-one meetings, we no longer do face- to face advocacies. Most of government actors who would ordinarily shy away from their responsibilities now see it as an opportunity. When you call on them that these are the things you need to engage them in, they will tell you that they are not in the office because of COVID – 19 and you cannot wrap them to their offices. These are the people who ordinarily weren’t doing much but now COVID -19 is a strategy for some of them to avoid being available.
The pandemic should be a boost to implementing and equipping our primary health care centres and health facilities but we are still looking on to government to see the line of action plan they are tilting to because the Anambra State Health Budget was increased from N4.7million to N5 billion. We are talking about diversification, we are talking about diverting funds,we are now trying to shift more funds to health mostly to the areas of the PHCs
How responsive were the people to your COVID-19 pandemic messages?
It wasn’t easy enough because it is as good as people’s minds are made up – they weren’t believing that the pandemic is real, even till date, but it needs more talking, getting people convinced but right now, I will say 60% of ndi Anambra now believe that it is real. They are now beginning to key in irrespective of the fact that they are still waiting to see people that will die as a result of the pandemic. This is one of our core challenges but we are still not going to relent in our effort to getting our people socially mobilised and informed.
Now that normalcy is gradually coming into the state, what new strategy are you taking this time in achieving your desired goals?
In terms of strategising, we are no more doing face-to- face meetings like before. We have to come to the stage where we do more of online meetings with our volunteers at different levels. For instance, we coordinate clinic foundation activities with respect to COVID-19 and violation of human rights which is on the increase. Rape is on the increase because when people were told to sit – at – home, the majority who were idle now resorted to rape and other violations. There were incidences of husbands beating their wives to death. We have a platform where we report our activities online, we do Zoom programmes, Webnar, among other online platforms.
In fact, COVID-19 has really taught us that there are things we can do even without spending much fund in mobilising people. Right now, we are gaining information at the easiest pace, we don’t even need to go out to mobilise people to Abuja. Those over there anchor and organise meetings with us irrespective of the fact that we are here in Anambra State.
As an expert in the field, what steps do you infer the federal government adopt to curb the pandemic in the country?
First step is in the steps is equipping our PHCs to a standard; at least to a basic standard ranging with respect to provision of access to safe water and basic sanitisation. They have waiting centres in PHC. They should equip that with viewing centres peradventure there is a anyone suspected of being COVID – 19 positive; that person can stay there and be availed the necessary facilities of support he or she needs. Government should equip our PHCs with the necessary facilities like handgloves. Workers in the tertiary health centres are still struggling with tools to work with. Government should support them and make these facilities available.
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