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Preparation into Practice: Combatting COVID in Sierra Leone

08 May 2020

Having emergency plans in place has helped us to respond quickly to COVID-19 in Sierra Leone. We have supported basic hygiene, humane quarantine facilities, and provided information on preventing the spread of the disease and to reduce stigma to those who contract it. Building up our local partners to respond effectively to crisis is core to our sustainable approach to humanitarian work.

Supporting good hygiene practices. Mohamed Lamin Sumah uses a water tank for handwashing at the temporary screening booth at the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea. Photo : Alhassan Sesay / KADDRO

There are now over 200 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Sierra Leone and the virus is spreading fast. Between April 20th and April 30th cases of COVID-19 doubled in the country.

As the virus spreads, people in Sierra Leone are naturally worried. The difference between Sierra Leone and other countries across the globe right now, is that less than 5 years ago, Sierra Leone had just come out of the largest Ebola virus epidemic. This outbreak which affected West Africa in 2014 and 2015 featured similar preventative measures – such as lockdowns and quarantines.

Over 10,000 died from that disease outbreak. As well as the devastating loss of life, there has been a lasting impact on the economy and people’s livelihoods in the region. People are still traumatised, and are now worried about the impact of COVID-19.

Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked 181 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index. As a result of decades of conflict, dealing with outbreaks, natural disasters like mudslides, and chronic poverty, the country has a very weak health system. 

Sierra Leone has just 18 ventilators for a population of 7.5 million people. In contrast, Ireland has over 1,200 and is currently scaling up to over 2,000. Sierra Leone doesn’t have a single ICU bed in the whole country.

Trócaire is responding through our local partner organisations on the ground. Through our SCORE project, we have supported local organisations to be better prepared to respond to humanitarian crises in their communities.

As such, two local organisations in Sierra Leone - KADDRO and AAD-SL - were well equipped to respond to the current COVID-19 crisis. Both organisations had developed Emergency Response plans which meant they knew what to do when COVID-19 hit.

Trocaire’s project on Emergency Preparedness and Response is very important for countries like Sierra Leone where disaster risks are quite prevalent. Being prepared helps them to respond more quickly and efficiently to saves lives and protect the most vulnerable.

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Humane quarantine conditions

In the North-West of Sierra Leone, next to the border with Guinea, we are supporting the local government to establish a quarantine facility. Here in Kambia district, KADDRO (Kambia District Development and Rehabilitation Organisation) is a local organisation, well connected and trusted by the local community.

KADDRO have helped the quarantine facility by: 

  • Supplying water access for basic hygiene (washing, bathing, toilets). There is no running water in the facility.
  • Providing fuel to power the facility during the daytime. Beforehand the facility only had power in the evening.
  • Providing supplies to people in quarantine, such as sanitary pads for women, mosquito repellent, disinfectant, radios and batteries, fresh fruits, and credit for mobile phones.
  • Setting up a phone line so that people in quarantine can make comments or complaints and receive feedback. This enhances accountability and trust with the community.
  • Constructing a temporary screening booth at the Guinea border for the purpose of screening travellers arriving from Guinea.

Screening booth in Kambia, constructed by KADDRO

Information is power

A fundamental part of any humanitarian response is information sharing. Many marginalised communities are excluded from accessing information. This can be due to public messages not being in their local dialect, or that they are illiterate, or they don’t have access to the news. They may not have a mobile phone, radio, or television, so it is crucial that we communicate messages far and wide.

This is exactly what Action for Advocacy and Development Sierra Leone (AAD-SL) is doing. They are raising awareness of COVID-19 in three districts. This involves:

  • Broadcasting radio discussion programmes about COVID-19 prevention. These radio programmes will last for 12 weeks.
  • Airing radio jingles in 5 local languages that will last for 12 weeks.
  • Supplying public address systems for district health vehicles for street-to-street and village awareness raising campaigns.
  • Establishing hand washing facilities in 59 communities and 30 public places. Visual posters and leaflets are also provided.

Radio programme on COVID 19 in Makeni. Photo : Gibrillatu M. Bangura, AAD-SL

Empowering local organisations

The SCORE project - Strengthening Capacities for Local Organisations to Respond Effectively in Emergencies – is an 18-month project. It is funded by the EU Aid Volunteers Initiative of the European Commission.

Trócaire and Cordaid are working with 12 local organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. We are supporting these local organisations to be better prepared and able to respond to humanitarian crises in their communities. To enhance resilience in crisis-affected communities and to promote a leading role for local actors in humanitarian action. We are trying to achieve this by strengthening the capacity of local civil society organisations to respond effectively and efficiently to crises.

A lot of what was done during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo is similar to what is being done during this COVID-19 crisis. For instance: isolation, handwashing, closing of schools and other public places, and community messaging. After the outbreak will come rebuilding society: opening schools, church, kick-starting the local economy.

The important difference between what international organisations were able to do then and now is that whole countries have now ‘self-isolated’, as entry into and out of most countries is not possible. The previous ability of international NGOs to travel to countries in order to support the humanitarian crisis is no longer possible. This means that all responses to COVID-19 are driven locally.

But what does this mean in practice? It means exactly what the SCORE Project embodies – investing in local organisations. This investment has been critical to prepare organisations like KADDRO and AAD-SL to respond to the COVID-19 emergency in Sierra Leone.

Through this project, both organisations had in place Emergency Preparedness Plans, Emergency Response Teams, and Humanitarian focal points. They became part of the emergency platform that was previously reserved only for international organisations.

Working through local organisations in this way is effective, empowering and ultimately the most sustainable approach to humanitarian action

You can donate online or by phoning:
1850 408 408 (Republic of Ireland)
0800 912 1200 (Northern Ireland).

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