How NGOs’​ leaders can fight Coronavirus

We all have a role to play in preventing the spread of the #Coronavirus (COVID-19). The advice from health experts has been clear: social distancing, washing our hands with soap for 20 seconds, and minimizing how often we touch our faces. They’re great preventive methods, and the evidence base for their effectiveness is rapidly growing as we learn more about how the virus is transmitted.

But for millions of vulnerable people who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence and persecution, this message is not sufficient. How useful is it to ask people to engage in social distancing or wash their hands with soap and water when they live in crowded IDPs/Refugee camps or families living side by side in overcrowded populated IDPs/Refugee settlements. It’s simply not an option. I haven’t heard yet of an outbreak of #COVID-19 in IDPs or refugee camps, but that is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Here is how NGOs’ leaders can fight Coronavirus and some tips for boosting the performance of your programs during the Coronavirus Crisis.: 

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1-Create a crisis-response team: in an emergency or fast-moving situation, you need a crisis-response team. With the Coronavirus, we are seeing this happening at all levels: Governments levels, Media level, Companies level, and I’m sure it’s also in all NGOs HQ level. Ideally, these teams should be small, five to seven people. You need to include a member of the leadership team (country management team), someone from security, logistics, HR, and an expert in the area of concern. This team should:

  • Meet regularly to monitor the situation closely as it continues to evolve.
  • Be the primary source of information about the crisis.
  • Give regular updates to critical constituencies (to both HQ and field teams).
  • Be as transparent as possible. Explain what you know, what you don’t know, and your sources of information.
  • Advice the Country Director and Program Managers/Coordinators on how to adapt the NGO programs to the situation along with new protocols.
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2-Focus on community engagement: As a humanitarian worker, sometimes you see a medical issue or a need, and you just jump in and want to treat it and forget that you need to explain to the community what the problem is and why you’re going to do what you’re doing. I learned through the years to engage with a variety of trusted figures during emergencies, including community leaders, community workers, youth and women groups, traditional healers..etc because they will be the key to support the community and pass the right messages.

One of the major flaws of the Ebola crisis, responders agree, was that communities were not engaged early enough — which led to the spread of misinformation, resistance to treatment, and the violence against health workers. It would be crucial to have early engagement with communities to explain how they can avoid the virus and what needs to happen when someone in the community contracts the virus and setting up systems for feedback from communities.

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3-Add awareness and messaging activities: Messaging to communities (IDPs, Refugees, and Host community) can emphasize the critical role of reducing how often we touch our faces. Touching the face is a key mechanism in the transmission of the virus, far more common than airborne transmission, according to doctors and health experts. And unlike hand-washing, which requires soap or social distancing, which requires physical space, reducing face touching requires nothing more than constant messaging.

Parents and other caregivers of children need messages that can help them talk about COVID-19 with their children. They also need support in dealing with their own stress in this time of heightened fear and vulnerability.

Promoting safe hygiene behavior is even more important at a time like this.

4-Nationalization: For a community of professionals who see travel as essential to their work (missions, field visits, delegations..etc.) this would be a significant cultural and operational shift in the humanitarian sector. INGOs are scrambling to employ local professionals and more local partners. Unfortunately, INGOs didn’t pay attention to the importance of nationalizing senior roles, but there’s an enormous opportunity now to focus on nationalizing roles and building the capacity of national staff.

In some NGOs, country directors, managers, and coordinators are leading remotely directing a team on the ground to implement activities, but working remotely is not easy and comes with many challenges. This might be the right time to consider hiring locally and engage with more local partners. 

5-Know your limitations and work accordingly: We work in a sector that celebrates individuals -belief, but it is far more important to have organizational -awareness. Some NGOs and its leaders think that they can do everything (education, protection, health, WASH, CCCM, nutrition..etc.) without thinking about their capacity and the availability of technical expertise. You should have organizational -awareness and act based on your areas of expertise to avoid negative impacts and maximize positive results. This is the right time to seek support from your technical unit or your programs’ development team to advise you on what to do and not to do.

6-Call for solidarity: Funds for preparedness are not always easy to get, what I learned when I worked with #InternationalMedicalCorps in South Sudan during Ebola preparedness is that getting resources just for preparedness is not very easy. Unfortunately, there are some similarities in preparing for a COVID-19 outbreak and other outbreaks in a country.

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To be able to ensure the continuity of your activities while preparing prevention and response actions to this crisis, you will need support. Donors whose funding is essential for the continuity of your operations, you also need individuals and businesses so that you can successfully add this dimension of awareness, messaging, and health services.

With help, you could prevent this epidemic from spreading to the most vulnerable.

So much attention has been placed on the West so far, but it’s rare to see advocacy when it comes to the poorest countries and most vulnerable people.

It’s your role to seek support from donors, NGOs, and other stakeholders through advocacy, sharing information, prepare your plans, work as a team, provide concept notes and proposals for potential funders and to be an active member of the national COVID-19 preparedness and response team.

Ali Al Mokdad

Some NGOs have closed their offices but are all working from home, publishing a series of blogs looking at the impact of COVID-19 on foundations and charities, and sharing what members are doing in response. NGOs like #norwegianrefugeecouncil, #internationalmedicalcorps #actionagainsthunger, #doctorswithoutborders, #médecinsdumonde, #internationalrescuecommittee, #danishrefugeecouncil, and many other NGOs are doing their best in raising awareness and providing the needed support in #Africa  #Asia #Europe #MiddleEast and #TheAmericas.

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You and your organization are already playing an essential role in preventing the spread of the virus. Still, the only way to truly #FlattenTheCurve is by making sure that those living in the world most vulnerable are also safe. This is not an easy task and needs further support from everyone at all levels.

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