Five ways to respond to Covid-19

HealthInfectious Diseases

Dr Ted Lankester from the Arukah Network for Global Community Health has decades of experience in global health. As the Covid-19 outbreak develops, he suggests some creative and practical ways to help people in poor communities.

A man teaches villagers in Mutaho, Burundi, how to use a tippy tap for washing hands and maintaining good hygiene. Photo: Tom Price.

For those of us living in higher-income countries it’s not that difficult to follow the well-known rules: keep at least two metres apart, frequently wash hands with soap and water and stay inside. But as many of us know and all can imagine, it’s entirely different for the 1 billion people who live in slums or resettlement camps. That’s one person in eight in the world. 

Experts and communities are actively creating ideas and actions that might help. Here are five: 

1. Think creatively about practical ways of increasing or maximising use of the water supply. This could be done by advocacy, or ensuring residents know where and when the taps will be on. And because it’s soap that kills the virus, initiatives to ensure soap is available will save lives. Soap plus even a small amount of water is still helpful.  

2. Set up ‘green zones’. These are areas at a family, neighbourhood or community level where those most at risk can be ‘shielded’ from the risks of being infected by others who may be infectious without even knowing it. This is not easy, but it’s working in some areas as shown by this report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: Guidance for the prevention of COVID-19 infections among high-risk individuals in camps and camp-like settings.  

3. Ensure accurate information is available. Use posters and community WhatsApp groups, and inform people about reliable radio programmes to make sure community members have accurate health information. It needs to be government-sourced or government-approved to avoid confusion. Frequently giving correct information gradually dispels the fake rumours and conspiracy theories that quickly spring up when fear from a new danger takes hold.

A woman in Zambia keeps her home and property clean to help prevent the spread of disease. Photo: Mark Lang

4. Discover from local communities what current felt issues and fears people are facing. It’s often lack of food, worry about police brutality and the difficulties of needing to live together in confined spaces. Encourage each community to create solutions and actions that are dealing with people’s main concerns – for example, providing food for those in danger of starvation, or sending encouraging words to those who are most vulnerable. How about encouraging families to think of ways of celebrating the good things together, for example using music and humour? 

5. Ask people how a knowledge of God’s love and presence can help and encourage communities and families to come up with their own faith-inspired suggestions. For example, some of the biggest causes of stress are family tensions during self-isolation. Past hurts and grievances can come to the surface and add greatly to mental ill-health. The gift of forgiveness, better still mutual forgiveness, can be amazing. A family leader or respected family member suggests that all agree to forgive past grievances and give a sense of absolution from what has occurred in the past. Explain this can be difficult and needs to be authentic. But if it is done with kindness and sensitivity, in the presence of God, and with a short, gentle prayer, it can bring new blessings and peace to the family. 

Read Ted’s article – Coronavirus: Your Questions Answered – in which he responds to frequently asked questions and includes helpful tips around maintaining good mental health and talking to children about Covid-19. 

For safe ways of connecting with others during the current Covid-19 crisis please look at our dedicated Covid-19 page.  

Read more on responding to COVID-19 in urban informal settlements on Tearfund Learn. Further reading: practical advice from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); relevant information from the WHO Regional Africa Office; Comprehensive advice from WHO; useful advice from the UK National Health Service

Find out more about the relationship between health and faith in Footsteps 102.

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Ted Lankester
Ted Lankester is the co-founder and joint Director of Arukah Network, also known as Community Health Global Network (CHGN), President and travel health specialist of Thrive Worldwide (a successor to InterHealth) and a long-standing member of the Footsteps Editorial Committee. He is co-editor and author of Setting up community health and development programmes in low and middle income settings, a recent publication from Oxford University Press.