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By Alain Tossounon
COTONOU, Benin – In the ongoing battle against COVID-19, social distancing measures continue to form an essential part of efforts around the world to stop the spread of the disease. At the same time, restrictions on the size of gatherings are also limiting the ability of non-governmental organizations in developing countries to promote good hygiene and sanitation practices that would increase the resilience of communities exposed to the pandemic.
Recognizing that what these NGOs need most right now is training on the coronavirus that they can put to work saving lives on the ground, PAPHyR, the GSF supported programme, implemented by MCDI (Medical Care Development International) has found a way to provide it, despite the current ban on gatherings.
PAPHyR – the Programme to Improve Access to Good Hygiene and Sanitation Practices in Rural Areas – and it is using video-conferencing to help its NGO partners adapt to the challenges presented by the coronavirus and continue their work of raising awareness and promoting good practices.
According to Mr Zita Tomety, PAPHyR’s Hygiene and Sanitation Manager, the onset of the pandemic has disrupted the activities of the programme, which is now in its 4th round of funding. In response, PAPHyR launched its new strategy in mid-May with an online training session for executive directors and programme officers of implementing agencies, designed to improve their knowledge of the symptoms of COVID-19, steps to prevent its spread, the status of the disease around the world and the measures being taken by Benin. In all, there were 47 participants, including staff of PAPHyR’s executing agency, Medical Care Development International (MCDI).
“We have learned a lot from COVID-19,” said Mr Claude Tossou, one of the training participants.
A programme officer with ANAP, an NGO working in the communes of Pèrèrè and Nikki in northern Benin, Mr Tossou says that the training has clarified the different messages that should be conveyed to target communities to make them understand “that the virus exists and that we must observe the protective measures to counter it.”
One of the objectives of this training was to get the participants to master the adaptation strategy to continue the community-led total sanitation interventions. Now participants are better trained to resume activities.
“The training allowed us to know how to adapt to the context of COVID-19 to continue our activities,” said Mr Tossou.
“Appropriation of the adaptation strategy was necessary before resuming activities,” added the Executive Director of APIC ONG having followed the training. While he is aware that in terms of barrier measures, it will be difficult for communities to respect social distancing, he said he counts on the support of local elected officials in the pursuit of activities in this adaptation context.
Under the PAPHyR’s strategy, participants in the training will, in turn, train community consultants, local engineers and all actors in the action chain. And beyond its use of online training to contribute to the collective effort to raise awareness and promote good practices, PAPHyR will provide health centers with handwashing devices and bars of soap, as well as intensify the production and dissemination of COVID-19 awareness messages in partnership with community radio stations.