When Community Healthcare Is the First Line of Defense Against COVID-19

Children around the world are facing growing health, education and safety risks due to COVID-19. Some children are already missing out on treatment that protects them from killer diseases, such as measles.

As the global leader in child-focused humanitarian response, Save the Children mobilized immediately to provide support, including medical supplies, preparedness training and critical information to the most vulnerable region, while making global response preparations.

Across the 120 countries in which we work, our immediate priority is to prevent and manage the pandemic. We have seen the coronavirus overwhelm the health systems of some of the world’s richest countries. It is now vital that the world’s poorest countries, with the most limited health systems, put in place the defenses needed to save lives. Those defenses include the provision of protective equipment, training health workers and community education.

Community health programs have a global reach

Community healthcare is the first line of defense against the coronavirus in many countries. Properly trained and effectively supported health workers can identify symptoms to quickly isolate cases and educate families about the importance of social distancing, handwashing and other behaviors needed to prevent and manage the virus. As pressures mount on health systems, community health workers and primary health clinics will play a critical role in defending the health systems that protect children from killer diseases – like pneumonia, malaria, sepsis and measles – and in providing women with safe childcare facilities.

Save the Children is widely recognized as a global leader in community-based health care. We know from our experience in responding to some of the most desperate challenges – from the 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa, to drought in the Horn of Africa, and health programs in areas affected by conflict – that this is an approach which delivers results. 

Our community health programs have a global reach. We currently work with over 500,000 community health workers in 44 countries delivering essential health services. Our teams operate in 1,509 health facilities in 14 countries and provide support through Ministries of Health to 20,981 health facilities around the world. This is an infrastructure we can – and will – deploy to fight the coronavirus, working with local partners and governments.

Helping the most at-risk children

Save the Children’s Emergency Health Unit – medical teams who deliver rapid, quality public healthcare for children and their families caught up in catastrophic natural disasters, brutal conflicts and fast-spreading disease outbreaks – is also responding across the globe.

Although travel restrictions and border closures make it difficult for us to deploy our full Emergency Health Unit teams, we have health experts in some of the most at-risk countries assisting Save the Children’s existing teams on the ground

to develop and implement COVID-19 response plans, train staff and support community health workers to manage COVID-19 cases in their communities. Where it’s not possible to travel we have experts remotely supporting countries.

The Emergency Health Unit’s other priority is to ensure essential health services – such as vaccinations, primary healthcare and maternal and newborn care – can continue and that children and their families have access to these services.

Experts in responding to disease outbreaks

The Emergency Health Unit are experts in controlling infectious diseases and have vast experience responding to deadly outbreaks.

When the world’s second biggest Ebola outbreak hit the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) eastern provinces in mid-2018, health workers braced for the worst. Unlike other Ebola outbreaks, this one was in a conflict-affected region where humanitarian workers had been caught up in the violence. Health workers also faced another challenge. Fear and misinformation were fueling the spread of the deadly virus.

We deployed the Emergency Health Unit a few days after the outbreak was declared to help local hospitals and health centers with surveillance and identification of Ebola cases, trace people who had potentially come into contact with the virus, provide infection and prevention materials for health workers and to conduct a mass education campaign.

“Since the Ebola disease appeared, we’ve been scared…you wake up and learn that someone is dead, others have started getting sick…you lose hope,” Kavala, a farmer from Beni, says. “After receiving the right information, we have changed our behavior. We will not die because we now know how to protect ourselves. Awareness has helped us a lot and the number of deaths has dropped since.”

The Emergency Health Unit reached more than 1 million children and adults in eastern DRC with information about how to protect themselves from Ebola.

Transforming the way health care is delivered in the world’s hardest-to-reach places

Our worldwide presence, decades of on-the-ground expertise and ability to quickly adapt to changing conditions is what makes Save the Children such a strongly placed leader in health and humanitarian programming. But we can’t do this important work without continued support. 

Now, more than ever, it is essential that as a global community we take swift, decisive action to protect and save the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable communities from this unprecedented pandemic. We urgently need your support to enable community health workers to continue lifesaving and preventative services, to continue the delivery of basic medical care.

Learn more about Save the Children’s global response efforts to help children stay healthy and protected in the face of COVID-19

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