Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Transport Charity Continues to Fight Two Diseases on Several Fronts but Now Has Extra Help

Injection of Financial Aid Assists Combating Peak Malaria Season and Covid-19
Shipping News Feature

UK – AFRICA – Despite the lockdown and many of its staff having to be flown home during the pandemic, transport charity Transaid is still working at the sharp end as it continues its vital work bringing medical treatment, and hope, to far flung communities in sub Saharan Africa, with much of its funding derived from the UK shipping and logistics community.

Now, with a cash injection from the FIA Foundation of £150,000 the in country team has been working to ensure communities in rural Zambia have critical information about Covid-19, including details on how to protect themselves. This includes a series of clear to understand posters for maintaining hygiene and social distancing during the outbreak, in English and other local languages.

The charity is helping 200,000 rural Zambians to prepare for the virus utilising and strengthening community systems already in place through the MAMaZ against Malaria (MAM) at Scale programme which we reviewed at the end of last year. The rapid funding from FIA has seen Transaid and its partners act fast to expand the remit of this life-saving project.

Originally established using community health volunteers, bicycle ambulances and volunteer riders to support patients with suspected severe malaria in reaching a health facility, the programme will now integrate Covid-19 messaging and interventions in a bid to prevent the rapid spread of the disease. Caroline Barber, Chief Executive of Transaid, explained:

“We have been engaged at the highest levels in-country to support preparations being made on the ground. The spread of the disease in Zambia is several weeks behind Europe and North America, meaning every second counts. The more we can do now, the more lives we can save.”

The fear with the coronavirus is that it has the capacity to spread rapidly across the continent where the disparity of different societies and cultures will leave openings for it to cut a swathe through the population. In addition to those posters, Transaid has used the medium of community radio to warn of the dangers and advise tactics and procedures to prevent the spread.

The challenges brought about by Covid-19 differ greatly in Africa compared to Europe. As things currently stand, the number of confirmed cases in sub-Saharan Africa is relatively low. Zambia, for example, had 76 confirmed cases, whilst Tanzania’s total stood at 284 toward the end of April. The actual number of cases however is likely to be far higher.

Many countries where Transaid works have considerable experience in managing infectious diseases as they witness a high burden of HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB. Experience from the Ebola crisis has seen the development of response strategies including testing and tracing.

Together with its partners in the MAM at Scale programme, Transaid has been contributing to the Community Health Worker National Guidelines and supporting the district health teams in giving educational talks in local communities on prevention and response. It has also been helping to build resilience by stocking up food banks in 180 communities for the most vulnerable.

Other initiatives have included the procurement of cloth masks, disposable gloves and soap to protect community health volunteers and bicycle ambulance riders, together with the installation of ‘tippy-tap’ systems to provide hand-washing facilities in 180 communities. New safety protocols which include guidance on personal safety have also been rolled out to the volunteer riders. Saul Billingsley, Executive Director of the FIA Foundation, observed:

“Transaid and its partners have built a community health network which has had a huge impact on malaria health outcomes, through education and treatment outreach, with a direct application for the new global health challenge of Covid-19. The FIA Foundation is proud to support the nimble adaption of the existing network to reach many of the most remote communities in Zambia to save lives.”

Despite a pause in some of its activities, the commercial driver training centres in Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda having to suspend practical courses, the teams there are also exploring new avenues, such as distance learning and using this time to review training materials and looking at a social media programme for long distance truck drivers in Uganda to communicate facts about the spread of the virus.

With the malaria season currently at its height, and symptoms of Covid-19 often presenting similarly, Transaid says it is devoting every effort to ensure people get the treatment they need. Caroline Barber concludes:

“We are currently working at full steam both in the UK and on the ground in Africa. The whole team is highly motivated to ensure we can make a real difference, including sharing this approach, materials and learning with other countries.

“We have lots more activities planned for the coming weeks and we are hugely thankful to the FIA Foundation for reacting so quickly and enabling us to get to work straight away. Their support will help ensure that vital services and medicines won’t stop reaching the children who need them most; we are absolutely committed to ensuring we do not lose ground in the fight against malaria.”

Established almost twenty years ago with a donation of $300 million from Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the independent UK registered charity, FIA Foundation promotes road safety, sustainable mobility and the environment as well as funding motor sport safety research.

Photo: Bicycle ambulance riders are trained on new protocols whilst maintaining social distancing.