Tendai Rupapa Senior Reporter
Community involvement remains key in the fight against Covid-19, which has killed thousands of people globally and left societies grappling with an increase in domestic violence cases, among other challenges.
This came out during the first webinar of the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD) running under the theme, “The health and socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 on achieving universal health coverage’’.
First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa is the OAFLAD vice president and yesterday she joined other First Ladies in a virtual conference that tackled a number of issues pertaining to Covid-19.
In her presentation, Amai Mnangagwa said health systems, societies, culture and economies, had been turned upside down in a short space of time because of Covid-19.
“While the timely declaration of Covid-19 as a national disaster on the 27th of March by His Excellency ED Mnangagwa, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe and his subsequent pronouncement of a national lockdown on the 30th of March, has had positive impact in helping slow the rise of new Covid-19 infections, challenges have emerged as a result.
“The community has encountered difficulty in getting access to clinics and hospitals for essential health care services and this has led to increasing numbers of people defaulting on their chronic medications such as for diabetes and hypertension, HIV and TB, among others. Declining attendance of women and children for services such as antenatal care, labour and delivery and immunisation services has also been noted,” she said.
The First Lady, who is the country’s health ambassador, said Zimbabwe’s culture and the way societies interacted had been shaken to the core as communities learnt to adjust to the “new normal”.
She said an increase in sexual and gender-based violence had been recorded in the country since the advent of Covid-19, with statistics showing a 70 percent increase in GBV reports compared to pre-Covid-19 lockdown trends.
Amai Mnangagwa said returning citizens from the Diaspora had contributed to the rise in imported cases of Covid-19 amid reports that some of the returnees were escaping from quarantine and were exposing vulnerable communities to the infection.
“As a result, a rise in local transmission of coronavirus has been recorded, especially in the urban cities. I am still continuing and intensifying my educational and information sharing activities on Covid-19 to the urban communities,” she said.
Amai Mnangagwa said together with teams from her Angel of Hope Foundation, which she founded to advance the cause of the marginalised and vulnerable in community, she had stepped up efforts to prepare rural communities, including the elderly against Covid-19.
“I am doing this through enhanced education and awareness programmes that emphasise on practicing hand hygiene, social distancing, cough etiquette and use of face masks. At the same time, I have been distributing an assortment of hand sanitisers and personal hygiene kits for use by vulnerable adolescent girls and young women who cannot afford to buy pads on a monthly basis.
“Recognising the hardships that have befallen families especially the elderly due to the socio-economic impact of Covid-19, I have been moving to the rural and hard-to-reach areas in the country donating food baskets to alleviate hunger. As the country is in the winter season, I have also distributed blankets to the elderly, disabled and child headed families.
“In order to tackle hunger more broadly, I am helping communities set up ‘grandma’s or ambuya’s garden’, where they can grow fresh vegetables that can be used to improve their nutritional status. As the ambassador for health and child care in the country, it is my sincere hope that as we go all out to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is strengthening of the health system as our country seeks to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.
“I therefore welcome the donation that was made by the First Lady of China which will go a long way in meeting the urgent need for personal protective equipment for our frontline workers. I have already distributed through the channel of Covid-19 task force.”
The First Lady said in her interactions with the vulnerable communities and the elderly, she had been advocating against GBV, and has roped in traditional chiefs and religious leaders to be strong advocates against the vice.
She applauded the work being done by the inter-ministerial taskforce on Covid-19 in constructing quarantine and isolation facilities and improving the health infrastructure.
“It is my sincere wish that scientists will find a vaccine and a cure in the not too distant future in order to curtail this pandemic.”
Botswana First Lady Mrs Neo Jane Masisi spoke strongly against the increase in GBV cases during lockdown.
“It is sad that Covid-19 has dislocated the normal functioning family set-up with women and girls being affected more. The extended lockdown means the victims are staying under one roof with their potential abusers hence the spike in gender-based violence around the continent. Homes have now become unsafe havens.”
Mrs Masisi said due to lockdowns, most businesses had shut down and women were unable to conduct their daily errands which generate revenue used to feed families, bringing stress and more dependence in families, especially on men who in most cases, are the potential perpetrators; hence more abuse against women.
“As First Ladies, there is need for us to speak with one voice and end gender based violence. As we battle this pandemic, we should draw lessons from previous pandemics like HIV and Ebola. Women and girls must be part of every socio-economic plan. A lot still need to be done to end GBV and we have to use the PPR approach.”
Her presentation dovetails with efforts already being made by Amai Mnangagwa to foster peace in communities.
Mr Peter Sands, the executive director for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria, applauded OAFLAD for holding the discussion and said her organisation was committed to working with the First Ladies for the benefit of their countries.
“The main objective is to achieve health coverage in Africa. Covid-19 brings challenges like suffering, death and massive disruption. We need to redouble our commitment towards the fight against Covid-19 and other diseases like TB, HIV and malaria. This is the time for governments to commit to resourcing their health facilities because Covid-19 is a massive health disruption which arises with huge socio-economic consequences.”
Niger’s First Lady, Aissata Issoufou Mahamadou, praised the Global Fund for assisting African countries, and spelt out the measures her country has been employing in the wake of Covid-19.
Kenyan Ambassador to Ethiopia, Catherine Wangi, said there was need to prevent the parallel challenges brought by Covid-19.
She said governments should put in place measures that promote and protect victims’ rights while there should be community centres to assist women and girls, adding that awareness should be raised in the judiciary and police in respect of GBV.
Amai Mnangagwa has been spearheading initiatives countrywide to ensure girls and women from vulnerable communities had access to reusable sanitary pads which are being made by her foundation.
Dr John Nkengasong, the director of Africa Centre for Disease Control and prevention weighed in saying Africa learnt a lot from the Ebola outbreak.
“Covid-19 has gathered full momentum and as a continent, we are now seeing a weekly increase of new cases. In order to protect the harm of Covid-19, Malaria, and TB, we have to engage local communities, civil, traditional and religious leaders. As a continent there are a couple of things we must do collectively to save lives.
“We need to communicate with communities effectively because the battle against Covid-19 will be won at community level, we learnt this lesson from Ebola and we have to also win this battle against Covid-19.”
Amai Mnangagwa has been visiting hard to reach areas countrywide in an effort to ensure communities get accurate information on the pandemic.
Namibian First Lady Monica Geingos said she supported what Amai Mnangagwa said in her presentation about community engagement, adding that as First Ladies, they should have a common interest and being community focused.
Several other First Ladies took turns to present on the impact of Covid-19 in their countries.