CategoriesGFAN Africa YL4H

Amid COVID-19, the Fight Against Malaria Should not Falter

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GFAN Africa joined in efforts to urge for the need to end malaria by organizing activities to mark World Malaria Day 2021, informed by this year’s theme Zero Malaria – drawn the line against malaria. On 22 April, Vuka an online show organized by WACI Health and hosted by Olayide Akanni invited Farhan Yusuf a pharmacist and youth leader for health to share his thoughts on progress made towards ending malaria and what actions should be taken to eliminate the disease. Farhan appreciated that immense efforts in resource allocation, research and community engagement have been made over the years that have contributed to progress towards ending malaria.

He urged Governments to invest more resources to defeat malaria and emphasized that the resources should be used prudently. “There is need to focus on community mobilization to end malaria because communities must respond to the proposed solutions.” He added. He observed that malaria elimination is possible, Algeria has done it, several other countries are about to achieve this, it can be done in all of Africa as he emphasized that conversations on eliminating malaria should go on after world malaria day. Watch the Vuka show here

GFAN Africa coordinated the publication of newspaper articles in several countries to mark World Malaria Day. Demonstrating immense progress in fighting malaria in Ghana, Mrs Cecilia Senoo in her article published in three different newspapers shared data showing that the proportion of deaths attributed to malaria per 100,000 population has decreased from 10.8/100,000 in 2012 to 1.1/100,000 in 2019. She emphasized that ending malaria is within reach in Ghana.

In Kenya James Kamau acknowledged that there is political will to end malaria in Kenya. The Kenya Malaria Council was formed in February 2021 to mobilize local resources for malaria control and elimination. In his article, he urged that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts to defeat malaria should not falter. In an article published in Malawi by Maziko Matemba, he acknowledged the immense role of the Global Fund in malaria elimination. The Global Fund provides 56 percent of all international financing for malaria. The need to end malaria by building stronger health systems was emphasized by Itai Rusike who published a newspaper article on ending malaria in Zimbabwe.

GFAN Africa shared messages on social media acknowledging the Global Fund’s huge contribution towards malaria elimination and emphasizing the need to invest more resources to protect everyone who is at risk of the disease and to safeguard the huge strides made to end the disease. Some of the social media messages are here, here and here. Please retweet.

CategoriesYL4H

How I used advocacy skills learnt in Addis Ababa to educate people on COVID-19 in Ghana

I am Esmond Wedam Nonterah a Youth Leader for Health (YLH). YLH is a joint program by WACI health, RESULTS UK, Health Promotion Tanzania-HDT, Hope for Future Generation and CISMAT-Sierra Leone with support from Comic Relief, UK at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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The program I attended in Addis Ababa in January 2020 represented one of the most interesting phase in my life. It came at an appropriate time as two months after that the raging fire of COVID19 swept the world killing people and shutting down economies. The program was meant to better our advocacy skills towards malaria.

However, with COVID19 still a topical issue, I used the advocacy I learned at the program to educate people on the need to prevent ourselves from contracting the virus.

COVID-19 has come as a surprise to everyone. As the virus rages on like wildfire, this is how I experienced:

The power of being human is our ability to adjust to situations and needs. Once upon a time, COVID19 was the craze in town and people avoided it like the plague it was but now after a while, COVID19 has become normalized, and as such people think less of it. This is the case now in Navrongo. Earlier, it was a lust for life but now people just want to go on with their personal lives and ignore the fear of COVID19 as if it was a bubble gum event.

COVID19 brought out innovation in people generally. When nose masks were sold at exorbitant prices, tailors took upon themselves to produce locally made nose masks from African wax print fabric. In some instances, it turned into a fashion statement and this embraced the support for the wearing of nose masks. Through the ingenious works of these tailors, nose masks turned from quasi hospital wear to something more of a fashion attachment.

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Despite being a fashion accessory, the wearing of a nose mask is being seen as a burden. For instance, a met a lady in town not wearing a nose. When I asked her why she was not wearing one, she remarked that she was tired of wearing a nose mask and she felt they were uncomfortable to wear. I advised her on the need for her to wear nose masks always. I drew parallels to how the figures were increasing in exponential progression in Ghana due to the actions of people like her. She appreciated the point I made and immediately bought one just by to wear.

Veronica buckets gained popularity due to COVID19, these buckets were placed in vantage points like banks, mosques, markets and public places. In banks, security was insistent on people washing their hands before entering. I still see the buckets but the use of the buckets has been on diminishing returns. This is because the fear people have about the virus is on the descendency. The strict enforcement of the use of the bucket has been on the downward trend. In public places too, the use of infrared the money is becoming less pronounced as people are trying to adjust their lives to the virus.

Lastly, there are troops to the betting centers with the resumption of the football league. These centers draw huge crowds who can be careless in the spur of the moment of a victory or loss. These centers can be the epicenter of the spread of COVID19. These crowded places ignore social distancing protocol as these crowds are difficult to handle. I have seen videos of people here in recent times and I feel it is a cause for concern.

As an advocate and youth leader, I continue to observe, witness, and record the reactions of the public in these difficult times. Many questions remain unanswered

Are these masks made from fabric and with no filters truly effective?

Are people no longer afraid of death and accept it more as a part of life?

Why are our numbers going up rapidly?

Should we be on a partial lockdown or carry on as usual- markets open, restaurants open, football season starting, schools open, hairdressing salons?

COVID19 has gone from the Boogieman to the ghost no one cares about.

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COVID-19 affects individuals regardless of their status in society and their nationality. The response to COVID-19 cannot leave anyone behind and the only effective protection must include everyone, as this is the only way to adopt efficient measures that help control the pandemic in the long-term.

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CategoriesYL4H

A TYPICAL WEEK AS AN ADVOCATE WORKING ON ISSUES FOR IMPROVED CHILD PROTECTION AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH

BY: MOSES KODAH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR-NETWORK OF ADVOCACY FOR YOUTH EMPOWERMENT

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My name is Moses Sorie Kodah. I am a youth leader for health working primarily in the Kambia District, Sierra Leone. Kambia District is located in the North West at the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea.

I am trained youth advocate under the Youth Leaders for Health Program under the leadership of CISMAT-SL funded by Results UK and Comic Relief, London. In January 2020, I was part of a leadership training program and had the opportunity of meeting His Excellency, Ambassador Kwesi Quartey, Deputy Chairperson of the Africa Union Commission (picture on the left).  What an inspiring meeting.

BACKGROUND

With a team of youth leaders and advocates, we have set up an NGO called Network of Advocacy for Youth Empowerment. Our aim is to empower the youth to make sound decisions affecting their health, education and human rights. For the first half of the year 2020, we have been carrying out advocacy activities and public engagement to highlight education and health issues particularly during these COVID-19 times.

In March 2020, we supplied sanitary items and books to adolescent girls. This was carried out through the Adolescent Girls Equipped and Resourceful (AGER) project. The objective was to encourage adolescent girls practise  safe hygiene in safe places through washing hands etc.

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KEY ISSUES IN MY DISTRICT, KAMBIA

Poor reproductive health and low levels of child protection has lingered for so long in communities and institutions in the Kambia District. Challenges in sexual reproductive health and child protection take different forms such as in sexual harassment, teenage pregnancy, early marriage, child labor and trafficking. This contributes to poor educational performance and retention rates in school. Most of the cases are hardly reported because of low confidence in the justice system, cases not treated seriously, poor networking system between the community and victims, lack of logistics and poor public engagement to raise awareness. The affected girls are left to either suffer silently or drop out of school.

Unequal attitudes and treatments between the boy child and the girl child start from traditional African homes and find routes into learning institutions. Specific roles are assigned to boys and others reserved for girls and this is where a myriad of challenges begin for the girl child, a time when their immense potential can begin to crumble. My NGO has been called upon to intervene on various cases to accelerate justice for victims. I can share a few examples below.

On the 5th March 2020, a 16 year old girl child was reported sexually assaulted by Mr X (names withheld) in Romaka Town, Magbema Chiefdom resulting in teenage pregnancy and subsequently the death of the victim. The matter was taken to the Kambia Family Support Unit for investigation before the death of the victim. The Medical officer supposed to examine the young girl was absent from post for two (2) days as alleged by the parent of the victim. On the third (3rd) day the child was admitted however, the nurses realized that the victim had taken an overdose of drugs to terminate the pregnancy. Within a few hours, the patient was pronounced dead. The members of my NGO were informed to provide support for the family. The alleged sexual molester is still at large.

On the same day, a 17-year-old girl child was reported sexually assaulted and kidnapped by Mr Y, a social worker of an NGO organisation in Kambia Town, Magbema Chiefdom. The alleged perpetrator was arrested and placed in cells for 72 hours and was given bail as the file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecution in Makeni for advice. We are closely monitoring that case and advocating for justice to prevail.

On the 10th March 2020, a 4-year-old child was reported sexually assaulted by a son of a military officer at Pebu Barracks, Magbema Chiefdom. The little girl sustained serious injuries as confirmed at the Kambia Government Hospital. The child was accompanied by staff of Network of Advocacy for Youth Empowerment staff to the Rainbow Centre, Freetown for counselling, treatment and support. Investigations are on-going at the Kambia Family Support Unit. The alleged perpetrator is in cells.

On the 12th March 2020, a police officer of the Kambia Police Division was reported to have sexually abused a 14-year-old girl child in Kambia Town, Magbema Chiefdom. When arrested, he used abusive words even to the parent of the survivor. The mother of the 14 year old cried sorrowfully. The accused shouted and proclaimed that ‘’Government influence would end in his release”.I called on all activists to fight for justice for this poor woman’s daughter and the entire family and we continue to advocate for justice through media interactions and providing support to the family. The accused still roams the streets of Kambia boastfully and confidently.

PLANNED INTERVENTIONS

Through Network of Advocacy for Youth Empowerment, we are planning ten training sessions across the ten chiefdoms from August 2020 to May 2021. The workshops will give opportunity to stakeholders to share their experiences/strategies on reporting sexual reproductive health and child protection issues, the unresolved challenges, stigma and discrimination from family, community and health officials, law enforcement officers and so on.

The workshops will also educate stakeholders on the use of mobile phones and an emergency reporting system (Free line system emergency U-report system) to report issues relating to child trafficking, child labor, early marriage, rape, etc.  We intend to use targeted advocacy with this group to train them on the negative results that arise when such issues are not reported, tracked and perpetrators are not prosecuted.

We plan to target stakeholders such as Teachers, Paramount/Town/ Section Chiefs, Councilors, Pastors, Imams, Youth Leaders, Women Leaders, Adolescents, District Education Officers etc. We are planning interventions at 3 levels.

y3Community level: Committees will be established in the communities to ensure prompt actions are taken when there is a potential or real threat regarding safety of the girl child. This committee will comprise of community stakeholders and opinion leaders with the mandate to report any suspicious incidents regarding wellbeing, sexual reproductive health and protection.  This committee will liaise with government agencies within the district and help in advocacy work whilst linking up with other communities to learn/share good practices etc

Chiefdom Level:  A team comprising Family Support Unit, NAYE- Salone Staff and partners will be established to carry out preliminary investigations on incident and provide feed back to the District committee to ensure transparency and accountability. This committee will also engage print and TV/radio media to talk on sexual reproductive health and child protection challenges in the chiefdom.

System level: To ensure the success of the system and committees set, we will establish a system to capture, refer, and monitor the emergency and U-report system line. This will encourage regular reporting and sharing from committees and will promote an enabling environment for dealing with sensitive issues.

 

CONCLUSION

The training I received in youth leadership has sharpened my advocacy skills and helped me immensely in my work. I can only reiterate my thanks to facilitators Rosemary, Push, Dr Sylvia and Dr Elvis for opening my mind to the many possibilities of good advocacy. I am certain as community awareness of child protection and abuse is increased, the negative effects associated with poor reporting and follow up of perpetrators and prosecutions will be improved.

CategoriesYL4H

Data Is Important: Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on Girls

By: Amiry Abdallah Kaiza

I am a health advocate and I believe in evidence-based advocacy. My name is Amiry Abdallah Kaiza. I live in Tanzania in a district called Kibaha Urban and in the Pwani Region.I am trained youth advocate under the Youth Leaders for Health Program under the leadership of Health Promotion Tanzania- HDT.

Why did I decide to do a survey?

Since the eruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have experienced a lot of changes in Tanzania and globally as well. Many countries went into lockdown and nothing was going on. Restaurants and bars were closed, sports games were banned, international travel through ground and airplane became difficult, schools and universities were closed and so many things became stagnant.

Tanzania did not introduce the lockdown strategy as many countries have done to curb the spread of the virus. Tanzania introduced some partial measures including: compulsory quarantine for fourteen days for people coming from outside the country (arrivals), closing of all schools and universities, working from home and banning of all sports activities. The introduction of these measures has brought some changes and difficulties in the country. Some have lost their jobs and income; some s feel isolated and humiliated. Due to the negative impacts caused by the pandemic, the organization I work with, Tanzania Red Cross Society decided to conduct a baseline survey to determine the impacts of COVID-19 on girls in Tanzania with a focus on education, sexual and reproductive health, WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene) and child protection. We wanted to determine how children and young girls have been affected since the emergence of COVID-19.

Survey design

The survey is planned to run throughout one month starting from 1st June and winding up on 30th June, 2020. We have formed a team of 5 people, composed of two men and three women aiming to perform 600 surveys i.e. 120 surveys each. My survey focuses on Impacts of COVID-19 on education, sexual and reproductive health, WASH and child protection in the rural and urban communities in Pwani, Tanzania.  The survey contains 82 questions and involves the collection of first hand data through phone interviews. My organisations helped me sort out respondents where the main criterion was for the gender status of the respondents to be female. Soon after the selection, I was handed their phone numbers from the organisation database.

So far, I have already interviewed 90 respondents, girls and women. I have interviewed children involved in school clubs and their parents or guardians. I collect both qualitative and quantitative data based on the survey collection tools. The work has been overwhelming but enjoyable. My target is to interview at least nine respondents a day allocating approximately thirty minutes per person. Talking throughout the day has been a bit difficult for me because even though I am a trained health advocate, I am not used to talking to people every day and for many hours. Talking! Talking! Talking! This is my daily routine these days.

On the other hand, I find myself enjoying the experience because I am learning and identifying new things happening in my community daily.  For example, one day I was interviewing a female parent in my region. I posed a question, asking her to tell me the challenges young girls are facing especially this time when schools are closed. She responded by telling me that, in her village at least four school young girls are pregnant because currently they are not busy with studies and find themselves having nothing to do to keep them occupied. I felt so sad when I heard this news. I started thinking about how they are going to continue with their studies, how are they going to cope with the changes in their bodies because they are still young. I had so many questions popping in my head.  I thought about how irresponsible and predatory the men who had caused this were – seemingly taking advantage of the COVID-19 times.

Apart from that, and in terms of education, I have identified that some girls do not have people to help and teach them their school subjects at home making them miss a lot of knowledge and sad enough, they do not have access to radio and television where they could attend programmed classes through listening or watching. Also, many parents and guardians are very shy to educate their young girls on sexual and reproductive health leading to poor self-hygiene.  Families have adapted a new culture of washing their hands with clean water and soap every time taking into the consideration the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health to avoid contracting the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the fact there is new adapted way of living, many girls facing the challenge of the availability of sanitary pads in their homes unlike when at school.  On the other hand, child labour has emerged in some families due to life hardships. Some parents think this is a golden opportunity for them to utilize their children in businesses they are involved.

I sense a complex interaction between protection of the girl child, economic survival of households, and availability of items so strengthen hygiene and sanitation and fear of a ravaging disease.

I have been tasked to make sure that I fill all the information captured from the respondents. This is challenging work because I need to be very careful and settled in order to avoid missing data. Soon after completing data collection, our organisation will take the lead to analyse the data obtained through SPSS and Microsoft Excel systems.

The final results of the analysis will be used to influence and advocate for change in the community through the formation of new strategies to address the needs of young girls and children during the time of COVID-19 pandemic.

For sure, this survey has made me think about phone advocacy as a method that could be exploited especially during these times of pandemic. Because it is quite cheap and less time consuming since you only need a phone and the contacts of people you want to deal with

My advice to Youth Leaders, every day and every time is to strive to enjoy and learn from what you are doing. You will find that it is possible to accomplish your goals and became successful.

I am grateful, to Dr Sylvia Anie, a mentor, who instilled in me the need for data, for evidence to guide advocacy. In her words, “When you are able to collect and use evidence, your message as a health advocate becomes sharper and more acceptable” unquote.

Thank you.

CategoriesYL4H

WHY SENTENCE CHILDREN BELOW FIVE YEARS AND PREGNANT WOMEN TO DEATH?

By: Aliu Iddrisu

I am a self-motivated person who aims for positive change.

I strive to contribute to a world of respect and gratitude.

My name is ALIU IDDRISU.

I live in the Northern Region of Ghana and I am currently a student at the Tamale Technical University studying Computer Science.  I am a trained Youth Leader for Health. The youth leaders for health program is a one year leadership development program put together by Results UK alongside Hope for Future Generations (Ghana), CISMAT-SL (Sierra Leone), Health Promotion Tanzania – HDT and WACI Health which seeks to support 25 young campaigners based in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Tanzania develop their skills and knowledge to advocate for accelerated progress to end malaria and strengthen health systems in their countries and globally.

Why do Governments exist?

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Youth Leaders for Health Training Program, Addis Ababa, January 2020.

Why should we allow children below 5 years old, pregnant women and vulnerable people die just because of a common disease that can be prevented, just because of the malaria?

Reflections

On the 11th March 2020, I was admitted at the hospital because I had malaria. On the third day of my admission, I went to the hospital pharmacy to get my medications. Something strange happened when I was at the pharmacy.

A man came in with his sick pregnant wife. There was a nurse at the Hospital entrance who takes every patients or visitors’ temperature as you entered the Hospital. When she checked the pregnant woman’s temperature, I think it was hig

When the nurse came out and he asked what was going on, the nurse said she suspected his wife was infected with COVID-19. The husband said; “It can’t be true. I am a nurse too and I know very well the signs and symptoms of COVID-19. She only has a high fever and I suspected malaria and did a home test which turned out positive. So I had to quickly rush her here for treatment and you are telling me you suspect COVID-19. How can that be possible?

her than the normal temperature. The nurse quickly put on her gloves and face mask and asked the pregnant woman to follow her. I drew closer to the husband and asked what had happened? He said he did not know.

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Youth Leaders for Health Training Program, Addis Ababa, January 2020.

The husband went angrily to the room where his wife had been asked to wait. The room had no lighting and no fan. He escorted his wife out of the room and realized all the nurses were pointing to his wife and shouting, she has CORONA VIRUS run. Then everybody, including me, started running helter skelter. Yes, even me as a youth leader and health advocate run upstairs and peeped through a window.

The man drove away with his wife.

Eight weeks later, I met this man again on a motor bike at a traffic light on my way home from work. I asked him what’s up now with his wife. He said; “Oh she’s fine and we even had a new bouncing baby girl.  It was not COVID-19. Look at how the nurse caused panic, driving patients away and immediately creating stigma for my wife. Let us talk later when we meet again”.

People tend to jump to wrong conclusions.

If the husband had not intervened and insisted his wife had malaria, his wife would have been isolated in a COVID-19 ward and taken through many tests whilst the malaria parasites increased in number putting his pregnant wife at high risk of serious illness and possible death.

In my world as a health advocate I need to have correct facts and figures especially in this present time where there is fear. Just because one symptom of the COVID-19 is high temperature should everyone with a high temperature be quarantined?

WHY SHOULD THAT BE SO?

Before COVID-19, over thousands of pregnant women, children below five years and other innocent vulnerable people died globally and are still dying  from malaria but our leaders don’t look out for that but are concentrating mainly on COVID-19.

I titled my piece “Why sentence pregnant women and children below five years to death” because seeing and allowing innocent people to die from a common disease that can be prevented is equally sentencing them to death.

This can be stopped if we allocate more funding to strengthen our health systems. Together we can live. As I mentioned earlier on, I am a self-motivated person who derives satisfaction through positive change and I strive to contribute to a world of respect and gratitude. Therefore I pledge to advocate for more resources to be allocated to our health system especially to fight against malaria.

GOD BLESS OUR HOMELAND GHANA

CategoriesYL4H

My voice as a clinician, a health advocate and a community member Conflict or opportunity?

By: Ahmed Uzairu

I bring you greetings from the Nandom District in the Upper West Region of Ghana where we are experiencing a meningitis epidemic alongside the COVID-19 pandemic. I am a registered general nurse and a trained youth advocate under the Youth Leaders for Health Program. I live in the Goziiri community.

The Youth Leaders for Health Program is a joint initiative being implemented by Results UK in partnership with WACI Health, HDT-Tanzania, Hope for Future Generations -Ghana & CISMAT – Sierra Leone. We advocate for increased domestic resources for malaria elimination and strengthening of health systems.

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My work as a clinical nurse in COVID-19 times

I faced daily challenges in my work before and now during COVID-19 and I presume the challenges will persist after COVID-19. These include the scarcity of drugs, diagnostic tests and vaccines, shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), thermometers, pulse oximeters etc. This routinely compromises the quality of care and in COVID-19 times this has worsened.

There are patients quite ill referred from other district hospitals such as Lambussie and Sissala Districts and having to travel many kilometers to my hospital for basic care e.g. requiring intra nasal oxygen or pregnant women having to sleep in the open space overnight waiting for an obstetric scan the following day thus putting their lives at risk of contracting other diseases such as malaria, or people been referred to my hospital over many kilometers away for a routine CT scan or MRI or to see a specialist. Travelling can take up to days or a week adding to the cost of treatment, creating avoidable complications, preventable deaths etc.

Now, the patients don’t travel long distances to my hospital anymore.

COVID-19 has introduced fear of travel even for medical care. Therefore, there has been a sharp decline in both outpatients and inpatients. People who are aunwell do not report for care and others report late when complications have already set in.

This week, a child convulsed for over an hour because other health facilities lacked anticonvulsants. The child travelled many kilometers to my hospital and by then other life threatening complications such as hypoglycemia and hypoxia had set him. Parents were reluctant to bring him to the hospital because of COVID-19. The child was saved.

A number of children under five years who have presented with malaria over the past 8 weeks had severe anemia as well. The gains made in the fight against diseases such as malaria, TB, HIV etc. could be lost if more investments are not made.

All in all, there are numerous challenges faced by health workers and our already weak and overburdened health systems.

Must governments wait for another pandemic before strengthening their health systems?

The answer is a big NO.

My work as a health advocate

There is much advocacy to do these days but there are fewer patients and fewer opportunities.

Vulnerable patients such as pregnant and lactating women, those with chronic medical conditions have been asked to stay at home for fear of exposure to COVID-19 in the hospital. So my target audience within the hospital has reduced.

As a clinician, it’s sometimes difficult to advocate especially when information and data you put together is confidential and cannot be used to advocate e.g. for increased resource. Sharing such information requires authorization. There seems to be more sensitivity in COVID-19 times with regards to evidence based advocacy.

My life within my community

Community advocacy has come to a halt because I spend long hours working in the hospital. Prior to COVID-19, I would organize small groups within my community and discuss and share ideas of keeping safe from malaria, improving hygiene and sanitation etc.

I am too tired these days.

The lessons learnt

My voice as a clinician, a health advocate and a community member has both conflicting and opportunistic moments.

Conflicting moments because I work in an ideal environment to advocate about health however, COVID-19 has taken away and reduced my target audience.

Conflicting moments because, my long hours at work make it difficult to advocate in my community.

I must think of new opportunities to talk about health. I worry about Health System strengthening.

Moving forward post COVID-19 and Health System Strengthening

What is a health system?

“A health system includes all the organizations, institutions and resources that are devoted to producing health actions whose primary intent is to improve health. A health systems vital functions are; Service Provision, Resource Generation, Financing and Stewardship.

Improved performance in controlling emerging and re-emerging diseases (i.e. malaria, HIV, Meningitis, COVID-19 etc.) in developing countries is dependent on the quality, equity and efficiency of health systems. Rapid progress towards targets for diseases elimination is greatly hampered by weak, poorly functioning or in some cases non-existent health systems.

What do we need to strengthen our health system?

  • Investing in science, research and technology

African Governments must at least commit 1% of their GDPS to investing in science and technology as encouraged by the African Union. Investing into health system strengthening by increasing health funding is essential. Priority problems for health systems need to be identified and researched in relation to development goals and in consensus with policy makers.

  • Procuring equipment and consumables

Availability of essential equipment e.g. CT Scanners, MRI and X ray machines, and other medical supplies is essential to help health care workers assess properly, diagnose accurately and treat promptly.

  • Availability of specialized skilled health care workers

This should be prioritized to ensure people have access to quality health care without the burden of having to travel 1000s of kilometers.

  • Domestic funding

Funding should be mobilized from within national health systems budgets rather than relying on donor support.

In conclusion, strengthening of health systems is urgently needed to ensure universal health care for all, particularly as the gains made stand to be eroded by COVID-19.

My voice will be increased in my three roles as a clinician, a health advocate and a community member. There may be conflicting times but I will also look for the many opportunities.

Reference: Strengthening health systems; the role and promise of policy and systems research, Alliance for Health Policy & Systems Research, Geneva, WHO, 2004.

CategoriesBlog YL4H

Life in a Community in Navrongo, Ghana – Through the Lens of a Youth Leader for Health

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By: Esmond Wedam Nonterah, BSc

I live in Navrongo in the Upper East Region, approximately 814 km from Ghana’s capital, Accra. I am a postgraduate student studying Population Studies at the Regional Institute of Population Studies (RIPS), University of Ghana, Legon, Accra and a trained youth advocate under the Youth Leaders for Health Program.

Youth Leaders for Health is a joint program by WACI Health, RESULTS UK, Health Promotion Tanzania-HDT, Hope for Future Generation and CISMAT- Sierra Leone with support from Comic Relief, UK.

I never imagined that in my lifetime, there would be a pandemic that would rock the world forcing us all to stay home.

Past

 I am told that I was born a happy child, always smiling, particularly when I was thrown up into the air and touching people with my little hands. As I grew, this did not change: having people close made me happy. Now we have to social distance…

 

In this town, people believe in the spirits having close ties with the people…is that changing too? Is COVID-19 having such a spiritual impact?

 

I lived through the Ebola scare which swept through Africa but fortunately didn’t enter Ghana. This pandemic feels different.

 

Present – First 8 Weeks of Hearing about COVID-19

 

Everything has changed. Every conversation is centered on COVID-19. Ghana had its first case of COVID-19 on March 13th 2020.

 

Market women practice social distancing, unheard of prior to COVID-19. The gates of all schools have closed, children play gleefully in the house but under the very watchful eyes of their parents and people are afraid to touch each other. The borders, drinking spots and public places remain closed apart from a few bars that open nevertheless.  Articles and documentaries on similar pandemics look like movies, except they are actually a reflection of today’s reality.

 

My health advocacy work

As I advocate each day, I do this with a little bit of fear mixed with greater portions of courage. Whenever you watch the news, you hear so much about COVID-19 myths, which have now been debunked. These uncertainties drive us to paranoia.

Some in my community, through ignorance, believe that drinking alcohol can prevent infections from COVID-19 so some drinking bars in Navrongo open up to customers. In these pubs, social distancing has been thrown to the dogs and misinformation thrives.

In my work as a health advocate, I have decided that my messaging within the community will combine the subjects of malaria and COVID-19. I was invited to speak on Radio FAS in Navrongo where I talked on preventive measures for both COVID-19 and malaria. It was a great experience as it gave me the opportunity to do what I love: “advocacy”.

I believe that mortality numbers for malaria is still higher than that of COVID-19. In order to have coherent messaging, I imbued COVID-19 precautionary measures in my antimalarial dissemination message on radio and on social media. Additionally, I continue to educate my peers on COVID-19. We meet in small groups of 5-6 persons in a prearranged location and we share thoughts, fears and strategies for keeping safe.

Despite mortality being lower among the youth, I believe we have a very big role to play in flattening the curve and also minimizing the spread. We must learn how to live with COVID-19. Until a time when a vaccine is produced, COVID-19 will keep serving as a threat and the best thing I think other advocates and I can do is to constantly remind the people around us that COVID-19 is real and that they have a duty to help stop or minimize the spread of the virus.

In my community, for several days there was talk about how COVID-19 only spreads to and kills older people. Misinformation, again. I met with community members and educated them about how infectious this pandemic is and that we are all at risk of contracting the virus, regardless of age.

These are real challenges to targeted and effective community advocacy.

Nevertheless, I admire the entrepreneurial spirits of Ghanaians. Face masks were previously expensive and scarce but are now affordable by kind courtesy of our tailors. Yet some people have simply decided not to wear them. It is difficult to blame ignorance because they see others wearing it.

 

After 8 Weeks of COVID-19   

I rarely go outside as school is now online, so every morning I open my laptop, log in to Zoom and listen to my lecturers speak with varying degrees of poor internet connection. It is not easy but this is the kind of life we have to live at Navrongo. As days turn into weeks then into months, we each long for things to go back to normal. Sometimes I ask myself, “what kind of normal are we looking forward to? The old normal or a new normal?”

The way of life of conservative Navrongo has changed. Sometimes, I wonder how life after COVID-19 would be and how we would socialize, how customs and traditions would change and how the internet would now be the major means of communication in contrast to face-to-face communication.

Oh dear.

In the words of my mentor, Dr Sylvia Anie: “Advocacy is challenging when faced with misinformation, fear and negative social norms… a true advocate is able to adjust and refine his/her message to suit the circumstance”.

 

 

 

CategoriesBlog YL4H

COVID-19: YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE A TASK TODAY AND TOMORROW

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By: Aloyce P. Urassa, Youth Leader for Health-Tanzania

Every time I listen or watch the news, I learn the world is speaking one language. Even though there are no new cases update within country, we are all in one way or the other talking about COVID-19, which has so far washed away over three hundred and sixty thousand lives, bruised the economy and social life at large.

As the world is in shambles and experiencing a huge adjustment into “the new normal” it is clear and beyond doubt that the world needs not only to bounce back but to correct and adjust for a better tomorrow.

On 26th April 2020, during my presentation on radio about engagement of young people in health systems strengthening, I received a very interesting and rhetorical question from a listener who introduced himself as a young person, “How can the government or any institution move forward in planning and even implementation of policies without including the torchbearers? Will they not stumble in the dark?”

Indeed, young people are the torchbearers for combating global threats and for sustainable development. Some of us, through the Youth Leaders for Health program (YL4H) have had international training on leadership and advocacy. YL4H program has had a tremendous impact on me. I have learnt effective ways to do advocacy and tell impactful stories that help to shape and bring changes in communities.

WE NEED TO CREATE A STORY OF NOW

“Do what it takes to make it happen” Dr. Elichilia Shao

As young health advocates, it is time to amplify our voices in advocating for health systems strengthening and strong endorsement of the fight against other killers such as malaria in the midst of COVID-19. It is a particularly important moment now, to put into action all the good experience we have and we continue to learn.

We can do that, by creating public awareness on preventative measures and we can encourage behavioral change by example within our workplaces, universities,

We can do that, by creating public awareness on preventative measures and we can encourage behavioral change by example within our workplaces, universities, communities and homes. As the quotation from a book ‘Dream, make it happen’ by Dr. Elichilia Shao states above we shouldn’t be silent but start making a good story about our impact now.

communities and homes. As the quotation from a book ‘Dream, make it happen’ by Dr. Elichilia Shao states above we shouldn’t be silent but start making a good story about our impact now.

With fresh spirit and high motivation, we will write a story that will influence generations to come. Let us learn from our ancestors who are recalling past strategies that were used to fight pandemics successfully. They recall stories written by people to make a difference.

Some or most are in lockdown either by order of the state or voluntarily like me, I am writing this seated in my room and observing social distancing. When I can’t get out or don’t have resources to go out, I utilize well my internet devices, mobilize people via social media, engage in global, regional and local meetings, share relevant and vital information with family and friends, read publications and posts from people, learn and give my comments and keep the movement going. I participate in online campaigns such as the beat campaign on zero malaria, solidarity pledges as a global citizen. You can also learn and do the same. With just a small spark we can ignite a tremendous fire. GET STARTED!  

CO-OPERATION WITHIN LOCKDOWN

On 25th April 2020, on World Malaria Day, I was puzzled with the strong unity created among youth leaders for health and their mentors without any physical movement.

A great beat was hit and spread to thousands about malaria fight and youth leaders celebrated with joy. This experience reminded me that social media is truly meant for socialization ‘getting us together’.

Currently a lot of webinars and virtual meetings are free for people to participate in. I always search, register and participate according to my interests. I make new friends. I get enlightened and this interaction gives me a story to share now and post COVID-19.  Volunteering in my community has also opened up opportunities for me to learn and interact with others. Through socializing via online systems or social media like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and LinkedIn I have connected to other African youths and eventually being the administrator for African youth for public services group platform representing Tanzania. I also joined a virtual meeting with WHO Director General as a youth leader in civil society organizations.

 

EXCELLENCE IN DIFFICULT TIMES 

“When we are afraid and uncertain, the still small voice of an advocate becomes even more powerful” Dr. Sylvia Anie

There are great things I desire to achieve; I do not have to wait for this time to pass. It is in difficult moments that the strongest minds thrive, flourish and shine. As the quote above from one of my great and inspiring mentor Dr. Sylvia states, We as young advocates should never keep quite even in tough and desperate moments rather speak as our voices go further with more impacts in silent moments. Recalling the history of fighting for freedom in Africa and learning how young leaders at the moment emerged of whom we embrace to this moment gives me all reasons to never hide during tough moments rather getting out to serve others. Most of them were between 20s and 30s. You aren’t late to document your own story of now.

The future we want depends on the present we live. An excellent future will only rise from excellent and well prepared minds. READ! LEARN! DO!

Reading alone doesn’t matter if I learn nothing, learning will have no significance if not applied. I take my time to read new things and develop what I already know as access is even broader during this moment, learn from them and do or plan how to do whenever possible.

 

CALL TO ACTION

 

To stakeholders, young people are ready to do more tasks today and get prepared for tomorrow. If you are in position to support them, do not hesitate. Currently some organizations like Health promotion Tanzania-HDT and others are offering great support to young advocates. Give access to more platforms at every level, both local and global. Young people are the power. Use this power well to avoid stumbling and falling into the darkness.

 

To young people, a lot of opportunities are opened for us, let switch on the power within us and move to the grounds of reality. Let’s get together and co-operate for excellence.  “Go Youth Leaders Go” A great motive from our mentor.

 

Note:

Youth Leaders for Health is a joint program by WACI Health, RESULTS UK, Health Promotion Tanzania-HDT, Hope for Future Generation, and CISMAT- SL with support from Comic Relief. The platform facilitates and connects 25 Youth Leaders passionate about health and healthcare systems to advocate for policy change at key national, regional and global advocacy moments.

 

CategoriesYL4H

HOW COVID-19 HAS AFFECTED DAILY LIVES IN MY COMMUNITY

By: Naana Adiki Manyeyo Adi I, Executive Director AA CommAid Foundation

imageMy name is Naana Adiki Manyeyo Adi I, Queen of the Royal Adibiawe Clan of the Ada Traditional Area in the Greater Accra Region.

I am a Youth Leader for Health and believe in the power of culture and tradition in encouraging behavior change when faced with a public health threat.

The Youth Leaders for Health Program is a joint initiative being implemented by RESULTS UK, WACIHealth, Hope for Future Generations-Ghana, CISMAT-SL (Sierra Leone), and Health Promotion Tanzania-HDT with support from Comic Relief. We are advocates for health system strengthening and increased domestic resources for the eradication of malaria.

My community has moved on gently in the midst of COVID-19. In the past and within my community we have believed in the phrase Together we stand”. This has been taught to us as children and has fostered harmony, peace, selflessness, togetherness, support and development.

This phrase has gone dormant in COVID-19 times.

 

 

Current Life in my Community

The corona virus has managed to move from the small community of Wuhan in China crossing several borders to join us in West Africa, in our communities uninvited. Its spread is very swift and undemocratic with no respect for age, status, gender, race, culture, tradition…

Before this pandemic, I advocated for better health outcomes against equally deadly diseases such as the quick-tempered malaria, the embarrassing tuberculosis, the silent cholera and the irritating dysentery. Need I add the opportunistic cancer?   You help me decide.

Day in day out, the lifestyle in my community has noticeably changed.

  • Many families stay indoors, indirectly gaining rest to boost the body’s immune system. There are empty streets in the community
  • Personal and communal hygiene has improved.
  • Some wear face masks, most don’t.
  • Conversely, community shops and kiosks are struggling with reduced patronage.
  • Prices of goods have skyrocketed at a time that so many people have lost their sources of income.
  • The banking halls have seen fewer visits too.
  • Child labor has reduced drastically. Previously, the streets would be flooded with children selling goods regardless of harsh weather, safety and kidnapping risks.
  • Social and religious programs such as marriage ceremonies, funerals, church service and mosque attendance, parties and others have taken a nosedive.
  • The private performance of some of these programs has saved people so much money.
  • More so, simplicity has taken its proper seat, at least for now.
  • Teenage promiscuity and pregnancy is being controlled effectively as during this time public gatherings where teen girls meet older men are banned

My Role as a Queenmother and Health Advocat

image 1As a Queen Mother, I continue to engage my community in education and information on the virus. I have used tradition and culture in communication to quell misconceptions about COVID-19. And I have explained how a weak immune system due to repeated bouts of malaria and poor nutrition makes us all susceptible to COVID-19.

I visited and shared hand sanitizers through the support of the McDan Foundation. Some of the beneficiaries include G.P.R.T.U’s, Market Women, Hospitals, Police Station, Okada Riders and households.

I have also visited usually ignored and vulnerable slum communities like Osu Kinka We, Bukom, Mudor, Korle Gonnor within the Greater Accra Region and have provided 900 packs of assorted provisions, rice, oil, tea, sardine,

I have also visited usually ignored and vulnerable slum communities like Osu Kinka We, Bukom, Mudor, Korle Gonnor within the Greater Accra Region and have provided 900 packs of assorted provisions, rice, oil, tea, sardine, canned beef, soap, toilet rolls, tomatoes paste, bread, gari and. This gesture was supported by a reputable organization who wants to remain anonymous.

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I continue to work with the District Chief Executive, Hon. Sarah Dugbakie Pobee, in community distribution of Veronica buckets, soap and hand sanitizers and to distribute water using the Fire Truck from the Fire Service Department.  I joined up also with our paramount chief, Nene Djetse Abram Kabu Akuaku III and visited both Ada East and West Districts and toured health facilities where I advocated that malaria should not be forgotten as we fight COVID-19. I have also held conversations with the District Health Director on COVID-19 messaging.

Covid-19 has really emphasized that indeed Health is Wealth. Leaders will have to go back to the drawing board to take a critical look at how and where to place Health System Strengthening in the list of priorities when it comes to Nation Building.

Thank you to my mentor, Dr Sylvia Anie for listening and sharing thoughts.

On this note I end here by saying FIRST THINGS FIRST!!!

CategoriesBlog YL4H

COVID-19 Pandemic: We Need Commitment by All – My Role as a Youth Advocate By: Delight Kwame Siameh (Youth Leader for Health Ghana)

kI come from a village in the Adaklu District in the Volta Region. I work in the Hospitality and Tourism sector and I am a trained youth leader participating in the Youth Leaders for
Health program which comprises 26 trained Youth Leaders across Ghana, Tanzania and Sierra Leone advocating for health systems
strengthening and increased domestic resource allocation to end malaria in Africa.

Presentation and use of hand sanitizer to a lady at Adidome, Central Tongu District

COVID-19 is here with us amidst all other health issues, including malaria which still remains an issue of national, regional and global concern. Various preventive measures and public advocacy by media, youth groups, NGOs and others are in the right direction. However, the expected results can only be achieved if everyone makes it a point to follow preventive measures strictly. In my role as a youth advocate, I have mobilized a group of 15 young people across communities in the Volta region and we routinely sensitise, inform, and educate community members. So far, we have interacted with 520 people over two weeks in the Kpetoe, Adaklu, Keta, Adidome, Anyarko, Hohoe, Sogakope and Ho communities through visits to homes, chop bars, small shops etc. We have conversations on the severity of the impacts of COVID-19 and the importance of  safety protocols.

 

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Health Advocate (right) with community members in Keta.

Each day, it becomes even clearer that behavioural change in the midst of COVID-19 is unpredictable, unsustainable and difficult. Examples:

  • There are people who constantly ensure they keep to the safety and hygiene protocols whilst some remain unconcerned.
  • Some people use mosquito nets to prevent malaria and others refuse to.
  • Some are reluctant to visit health facilities when they feel ill due to the fear of COVID-19.
  • There are already signs of stigma in some communities so that people wearing face masks are regarded as having COVID-19 or as strangers in the community.
  • Some people pick and choose from the various safety measures, based on what works best for them rather than their safety.
  • Some people wear face masks but do not practice social distancing etc.
  • In other areas, many people out of religious beliefs think that they cannot be infected by the virus and therefore see no reason for practicing various preventive measures.

Nevertheless, I believe sustained commitment is key.

The safety of a neighbour is our shared responsibility.

Let’s encourage our communities to carry on with preventive measures. As said by Dr. Peter Bujari, of Tanzania, ‘’Never say you know or have too little to make a difference’’.

My thanks to WACI Health, Results UK, Health Promotion Tanzania-HDT, Hope for Future Generations –Ghana and CISMAT – SL for their support.

Email: delight.siameh@gmail.com

 

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