PHASE Worldwide is pleased to announce that we have secured new Covid-19 Rapid Response funding from UK Aid Direct and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to expand our support to vulnerable communities in the Far West of Nepal, by maintaining essential health services and delivering health education activities. This funding will enable PHASE staff in Nepal to provide comprehensive support to maintain essential health services for the next six months, as well as carry out the awareness and prevention work necessary to inhibit the spread of the virus both now, and in the possible event of a future outbreak.
The Situation in Nepal
As of the start of October, Nepal has had over 77,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 500 deaths (Nepali Ministry of Health and Population). The Nepali government introduced a national lockdown in March accompanied by a quarantine programme designed to mitigate the risk posed by returning migrant workers from the Southern-India border. These measures, whilst undoubtedly successful in reducing transmission of the virus across Nepal, have incurred significant disruption to local economies and wellbeing within communities.
To understand the extent of the impact from the last few months, PHASE recently conducted a survey amongst community members in Mugu. The results showed widespread increases in the costs of food and hygiene products resulting in limited access to these essential goods. Average household incomes also fell, an issue which worsens amongst households that are home to a vulnerable member, such as the elderly, lactating women, pregnant women, female-headed households, and people with disabilities.
As travel restrictions are now beginning to be lifted, Nepal is placed in a precarious position, with community transmission of Covid-19 increasing. Whilst the recovery of the economy is vital, it is important that the progress made during the country’s lockdown is not wasted. It is essential that communities have the capacity and provisions to cope as lockdown is lifted in Nepal.
Therefore, using our new UK Aid Direct grant, PHASE Worldwide will strive to achieve three objectives:
1. Continuity of Essential Health Services
PHASE will place health staff in eleven different Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) in Mugu, Humla and Bajura, which will improve health provisions for around 31,000 people across the three districts. PHCs will be supplied with essential medicines and supplies to continue to provide basic primary healthcare and maternal and child health services, as well as specific Covid-19 support. The lockdown in Nepal has had a number of negative implications on wellbeing within communities, such as declining levels of nutrition and access to essential medicines. Increasing the capacity of health services will play an important role in the coronavirus recovery where other aspects of public health have suffered.
Health workers will also provide specific support to those who are most vulnerable, specifically individuals living with a disability, the elderly, and pregnant women. Our previous work has helped us to identify 3,000 individuals considered to be highly vulnerable who will also receive hygiene kits to ensure WASH standards are met.
2. Infection Awareness and Behaviour Change in both Local Health Workers and Communities
Health workers and current PHASE project staff will deliver 550 Covid-19-specific awareness workshops that will adhere to social distancing protocols. These workshops will be designed to increase public awareness and knowledge of the virus amongst 5,500 participants, on areas such as the nature of the disease, infection prevention, hygiene as well as psychosocial support. All who attend will each be provided with two locally made masks. Regular Covid-19 awareness and prevention messaging will also be broadcast on local radio stations, ensuring communities are provided with up-to-date key information and messages. These measures will be important steps in making sure households have sufficient knowledge, attitudes, and practices so to inhibit the spread of the virus and keep communities safe.
3. Prevent the Spread of the Virus in the case of an Outbreak
Generally, communities in Far West Nepal are highly vulnerable to rapid spread of the virus. Households are consistently home to large numbers of people, often in remote villages. This makes the likelihood of transmission in the household and community highly likely, therefore, an outbreak has the potential to spread quickly which makes it harder to stop. We hope that our other measures will help prevent an outbreak, however it is vital that we are prepared in case one does occur.
Our response will support PPE provisions for PHASE staff and health workers at the eleven PHCs we support in Mugu, Humla and Bajura. PHASE staff will support health workers in providing care to affected individuals in the case of an outbreak, as well as offer counselling for families and communities on how to care for patients safely at home, including supplying patients and families with masks. We will also set up temporary WASH facilities at quarantine facilities to reduce the risk of further transmission. Other activities will include supporting local government in surveillance efforts and tracking cases. A key element of all PHASE Worldwide projects in Nepal is our emphasis on feedback and incorporating local voices and opinions into our activities. The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented time for everyone; gauging local opinions in our work is as important as ever for us to maximise our impact within the communities we support.
Exactly what will happen over the next six months remains uncertain. Our response will enable communities in the Far West of Nepal to come out of lockdown safely with the necessary knowledge and resources to recover from the worst effects of the pandemic and lockdown. A full recovery may take a considerably longer amount of time, however, with our new grant we hope to be able to support communities to be resilient and healthy in the months to come.