“The School Health Club has taught us how to look after our health. I also bring the knowledge I learn from the club to my home, and my parents take those messages to the wider community.”These are the words of Kikanshemeza, a pupil at Mwisi Primary school in south-west Uganda and proud member of her School Health Club.Set up by the Uganda Red Cross, the School Health Club helps primary and secondary school pupils understand how to protect themselves from various disease threats, stay healthy, and share their newfound knowledge with their fellow pupils, families, and wider communities.It’s one of the many different activities under the Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3) – a multi-country programme run by the IFRC and seven Red Cross National Societies to help communities, first responders, and other partners prepare for, detect, prevent, and respond to health risks.Since joining her School Health Club, Kikanshemeza has built a tippy tap—a simple, low-cost handwashing facility that can help reduce up to 50% of avoidable infections—in her home, supported her family to use it regularly and properly, and shared life-saving information about different diseases.“She told us not to eat the meat of animals that have died and to make sure they are buried properly, and also that bats are a potential cause of Ebola and monkeys can transmit it too,” explains Kikanshemeza’s mother, Annet.Knowledge is powerKikanshemeza is one of 30 School Health Club members at Mwisi Primary school. The club meets up once a week in special sessions led by Akampurira, a facilitator from the Uganda Red Cross, who teaches them all about different diseases—including how to recognize signs and symptoms, which people might be most at risk, and actions the students can take to stop diseases from spreading.Club members are then responsible for maintaining school handwashing facilities, making sure all students follow proper hygiene practices, and sharing what they’ve learned with their follow students—often through large, theatrical performances in the school hall.Students act out informative and lively scenes: everything from a patient seeking help from a doctor after noticing signs of malaria, to a person being bitten by a dog in the street and rushing to get vaccinated.Tackling serious health issues in this more fun and light-hearted way helps break down complex topics, keeps fellow students engaged, and helps them retain the knowledge in case they need it in future.Why involve school children in epidemic preparedness?The IFRC and our member National Societies have long focused on helping people prepare for, respond to, and recover from epidemics.We know from experience that effective epidemic preparedness must involve communities themselves, first responders, and partners from across all parts of society – such as schools.“School health clubs have been a game changer in health risk communication, as engaged learners have been excellent peer educators in school, and also change agents at the household level,” explains Henry Musembi, CP3 Programme Delegate for Uganda and Kenya.“The clubs are a great platform for training the next generation of epidemic emergency responders and champions in target communities,” he adds.Seeing positive changeKushaba, another School Health Club member whose brother had previously suffered from malaria, says he’s learned a lot from the club and has noticed positive change in his community:“We learned how we can control malaria by slashing compounds, draining all stagnant water to destroy habitat for mosquitoes, and how you can use a treated mosquito net.”“Before the introduction of the School Health Club, we didn’t have tippy taps, we didn’t know how to use toilets, even how we can clean our school. Pupils, they were suffering from diseases like malaria, cholera, but now because of the School Health Club, they are fine,” he adds.--The School Health Club in Mwisi is one of several set up in Uganda and other countries through the Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3).Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the programme runs in seven countries and supports communities, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and other partners to prevent, detect and respond to disease threats.If you enjoyed this story and would like to learn more:Visit our Epidemic and pandemic preparedness webpageSign up to the IFRC’s epidemic and pandemic preparedness newsletter
Geneva, 22 September 2023 -As proved so tragically in Libya last week, while water holds the key to life, alltoo often it kills.
Whether – like in Derna - it’s too much water leading to floods, or too little water causing droughts, or polluted water resulting in health risks, addressing the dangers that water poses can save lives. As climate change intensifies these threats, there is an urgent need for action.
That is why a new collaboration matters so much.
With funding and support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands ‘Water at the Heart of Climate Action’ is an ambitious partnership between the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), The Netherlands Red Cross, the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF).
This collaboration will combine local knowledge and global technology to help communities understand and act on the water-related risks they face - before they become disasters. The programme is focused on supporting the countries of Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan,and Uganda, which make up the Nile River basin. These countries are not only among the Least Developed Countries in the world but are also highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. To ensure the implementation of this five-year partnership, the Government of the Netherlands has generously committed 52 million Swiss Francs (55 million euros).
The aim of the ‘Water at the Heart’ collaboration is to address climate-related risks that too often fall between the cracks of most country-level water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) policies. It will focus on practical, locally-driven action to better anticipate disasters and prepare communities well in advance. It will also use the latest science and technology to monitor and forecast weather and water-related hazards. It furthermore invests in communications technologies to warn communities of what is coming and enable early action. As a result, this programme is a direct contribution to the implementation of the UN Secretary General’s ‘Early Warnings for All’ initiative.
Jagan Chapagain, the Secretary General of the IFRC said:
“Water is life. But too much or too little water can wreak havoc on people’s lives and homes. Almost three-quarters of all recent humanitarian disasters were water related. This initiative makes mitigation of the impact of such disasters an absolute priority. With thousands of IFRC network volunteers across South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda, the IFRC network is uniquely positioned to deliver innovative and trusted local action. Through our partners, those actions can be informed by technology including the best forecasting and observation. This really is a ‘sandbags to satellites’ all-encompassing initiative.”
Mami Mizutori, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the head of UNDRR said:
“To save lives, lift people out of poverty and ensure that development gains are sustainable and irreversible, we must stop hazards from becoming disasters. Water at the Heart of Climate Action is a demonstration of the commitment of the Netherlands to helping some of the most vulnerable countries build their resilience in the face of climate change.”
Maarten van Aalst, Director General of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) said:
“As a national Meteorological Institute, we see the rapid increase in weather extremes in our changing climate, and we realize that we need partnerships all across society to make sure our warnings lead to early actions. The Netherlands’ vulnerability as a low-lying delta is significantly reduced by the power of good data and predictions, and the ability to act on that information — from satellites to sandbags. Water at the heart will strengthen our peers in the Global South to deliver similar services, and KNMI is proud to be supporting those efforts with peer support.”
WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas said:
“The majority of hazards are water-related, particularly floods and droughts. Climate change will further increase the frequency and severity of these events. End-to-end early warning systems are critical to save lives and minimize the impact of disasters. WMO is working with SOFF to close the basic weather and climate observation data gap and strengthen the foundational element of better data for better forecasts. Water at the Heart of Climate Action will make a tangible contribution to the Early Warnings for All initiative.”
Paul Bekkers, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the UN, WTO and other international organizations in Geneva, said:
“Water should not be posing risks to vulnerable frontline communities! On the contrary, we can empower communities to transform water from a hazard into a valuable resource. By leveraging indigenous knowledge and investing in early warning systems. The Netherlands proudly supports this partnership that places the needs of local communities at the heart of water action!”
REPRESENTATIVES WILL BE TALKING ABOUT ‘WATER AT THE HEART’ AT THE UN PRESS BRIEFING IN GENEVA FROM 10.30AM ON FRIDAY 22ND SEPTEMBER. THE VIDEO OF THE BRIEFING WILL BE POSTED HERE SHORTLY AFTERWARDS.
FOR INTERVIEWS WITH THOSE INVOLVED, PLEASE CONTACT VIA THE DETAILS BELOW
IFRC - Andrew Thomas / [email protected] / +41763676587
CLIMATE CENTRE - Alex Wynter / [email protected] / +447717470855
WMO – Clare Nullis / [email protected] / +41797091397
SOFF - Pauline Trepczyk / [email protected] / +41796407857
UNDRR – Jeanette Elsworth / [email protected] / +41766911020
PERMAMENT REPRESENTATION OF THE NETHERLANDS - Joyce Langewen / [email protected] / +41794486110
NETHERLANDS RED CROSS - Bastiaan van Blokland / [email protected] / +31704455612
Nairobi/Kampala/Geneva, 13 October 2022 – Uganda is currently facing an outbreak of the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD). The first case of the EVD was reported on 20th September 2022 and the Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) immediately activated an Ebola Preparedness and response program to fight the spread.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an Emergency Appeal to scale up these activities—targeting 2.7 million people.
Robert Kwesiga, Uganda Red Cross Secretary General, said:
“We have trained our volunteers to conduct safe and dignified burials and carry out health promotion activities. We are engaging communities directly with information about Ebola symptoms and how to prevent further risk, including early detection of new cases”.
The last Ebola outbreak in Uganda was in 2020, when more than ten districts experienced the virus’s wrath, particularly areas neighbouring the country’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Regular cross-border communications, information sharing, and support helps mitigate risk and enables Red Cross and Red Crescent teams in neighbouring countries to conduct effective readiness activities and scale up their responses, if necessary.
Papa Moussa Tall, IFRC Head of Delegation for Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan said:
“The Ebola virus is devastating for families, but I am relieved that we are able to offer experienced teams and lessons learned from past outbreaks to help. The IFRC—through our Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF)—has activated resources to support the Uganda Red Cross to quickly respond and save lives”.
The IFRC urgently seeks CHF 10 million to address gaps and procure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for URCS staff and volunteers, who are at the forefront of the Ebola response. IFRC’s appeal will help address these and other needs, such as building the URCS team’s capacity to manage safe and dignified burials.
Tall added: “The Red Cross has deployed ambulances to the most affected districts to support quick evacuation of probable cases to the nearest Ebola treatment centres”.
The Uganda Red Cross has more than 500,000 volunteers and members spread across 51 branches and over 300 staff members including a skilled health department with health experts in areas directly linked to the epidemic response. The IFRC’s Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3) is currently being implemented, with focus on community epidemic and pandemic preparedness. The Uganda Red Cross is part of the task force that leads the response efforts as the country puts up a fight against the epidemic.
For more information, please contact:
In Kampala: Irene Nakasiita, +256 755000695 / 774382583, [email protected]
In Nairobi: Rita Nyaga, +254 110 837154, [email protected]
In Geneva: Jenelle Eli, +1-202-603-6803, [email protected]
Nairobi/Geneva, 20 May 2020—A series of mutually exacerbating disasters is unfolding in East Africa, on a scale rarely seen in decades, warned the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
Ongoing heavy rain—which has killed nearly 300 and displaced about 500,000 people—has slowed down operations aimed at controlling the worst locust crisis in decades and increased the risk of the spread of COVID-19.
Dr Simon Missiri, IFRC’s Regional Director for Africa said:
“The ongoing flooding crisis is exacerbating other threats caused by COVID-19 and the invasion of locusts. Travel and movement restrictions meant to slow down the spread of COVID-19 are hampering efforts to combat swarms of locusts that are ravaging crops. Flooding is also a ‘threat amplifier’ with regards to the spread of COVID-19 as it makes it hard to implement preventive measures.”
Flooding has left thousands of people homeless, many of them now seeking shelter in temporary accommodation centres where it is not easy or not possible at all to observe physical distancing. As a result, thousands are now at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or waterborne diseases and need emergency food assistance.
“We are facing an unusually complex humanitarian situation. We are worried that the number of people who are hungry and sick will increase in the coming weeks as flooding and COVID-19 continue to severely affect the coping capacity of many families in the region,” added Dr Missiri. “Harsh weather conditions are having a multiplier effect on an already difficult situation and this could potentially lead to worrying levels of food insecurity in the region.”
Red Cross teams in the affected countries are rushing to respond to multi-faceted and overlapping crises. To respond to flooding, COVID-19 and locusts, the IFRC has provided over 7 million Swiss francs to Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies in East and Horn of Africa.
Red Cross and Red Crescent teams in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda are helping communities mitigate the negative impacts of the triple disaster through community awareness and direct food and non-food support. In Kenya, the Red Cross is conducting assessments in 16 counties, using drones and satellite images. Red Cross teams are also airlifting household items to families that have been marooned by floods.
“Flooding is a recurrent phenomenon in the region. To break this cycle, we call upon Governments and partners to invest more in preparedness and flood control methods,” said Dr MISSIRI.
The Empress Shôken Fund is named after Her Majesty the Empress of Japan, who proposed – at the 9th International Conference of the Red Cross – the creation of an international fund to promote relief work in peacetime. It is administered by the Joint Commission of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which maintains close contact with the Japanese Permanent Mission in Geneva, the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Meiji Jingu Research Institute in Japan.
The Fund has a total value of over 16 million Swiss francs and supports projects run by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to benefit their communities in various ways. The first grant was awarded in 1921, to help five European National Societies fight the spread of tuberculosis. The Fund has assisted more than 160 National Societies thus far.
The imperial family, the Japanese government, the Japanese Red Cross and the Japanese people revere the memory of Her Majesty Empress Shôken, and their enduring regard for the Fund is shown by the regularity of their contributions to it.
The grants are usually announced every year on 11 April, the anniversary of her death. This year the announcement is being published earlier owing to the Easter holidays.
The selection process
The Empress Shôken Fund received 36 applications in 2020, covering a diverse range of humanitarian projects run by National Societies in every region of the world. This year the Joint Commission agreed to allocate a total of 400,160 Swiss francs to 14 projects in Argentina, Bulgaria, Greece, Iraq, Lithuania, Montenegro, Namibia, Palestine, Panama, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda.
The projects to be supported in 2020 cover a number of themes, including first aid, youth engagement and disaster preparedness. Moreover, nearly all of the selected projects seek to strengthen the volunteer base of National Societies, with a view to building on the unique role played by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in communities everywhere. The Fund encourages new and innovative approaches that are geared towards learning, so that the broader Movement can benefit from project findings.
The 2020 grants
TheArgentine Red Crosshas launched a generational change in its leadership by promoting volunteers’ access to decision-making bodies. It will use the grant to design and build virtual courses, creating new spaces for dialogue and debate.
For years, the Bulgarian Red Cross has been a major partner of the State in the field of first aid, helping it to respond effectively in a crisis. The National Society will use the grant to reinforce its leadership position by introducing an online first-aid training platform that will facilitate theoretical learning and increase the number of trained first-aiders.
The Hellenic Red Cross seeks to empower local communities in vulnerable or isolated areas. The grant will go towards establishing branch and community disaster teams that will build communities’ resilience through activities and training around disaster risk reduction.
In Iraq, late detection of breast cancer is common and makes the disease much deadlier. To save women’s lives, theIraqi Red Crescent Societywill use the grant to train female volunteers who will raise awareness of early detection methods for breast cancer.
The Lithuanian Red Cross will put the grant towards an innovative digital platform for evaluating the impact of its first-aid courses, issuing and tracking certifications, and connecting with first-aiders after they complete their training.
Young people account for more than 80% of the volunteers of the Red Cross of Montenegro. The National Society will use the grant to improve its activities and services with the aim of strengthening youth participation and raising awareness of volunteer opportunities.
As Namibia’s population grows, first-aid skills and services are more in demand than ever before. The grant will enable the Namibia Red Cross to run intensive first-aid training and certification courses in ten schools.
To better serve the communities it works with, thePalestine Red Crescent Society seeks to build its staff members’ and volunteers’ capacities. It will use the grant to establish a computer lab as a continuing-education unit for all of its staff and volunteers.
In Panama, gang violence has shot up in recent years, and pollution continues to grow owing to a lack of public awareness. The Red Cross Society of Panama will use the grant to develop a series of activities aimed at promoting a culture of peace and environmental responsibility.
Blood transfusion services are an essential component of Sierra Leone’s health-care system. The grant will enable the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society to increase access to safe blood products, especially for pregnant woman and infants.
In Timor-Leste, 70% of the population is under 30 years old, but accessing information about reproductive health can be difficult, particularly in rural areas. The Timor Leste Red Cross will use the grant for a public-awareness and education campaign for young people on reproductive health.
The Tonga Red Cross Society will use the grant to improve students' access to health care and physical activity by using safer vehicles for transportation.
The Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross Society is exploring novel approaches to teaching disaster preparedness and increasing public awareness on the subject. The grant will enable the National Society to use virtual-reality technology to teach the public about the reality and impact of disasters.
In Uganda, 70% of blood donors are students, so the country faces blood shortages outside term time. The Uganda Red Cross Society will use the grant to develop its online recruitment of adult blood donors so as to counteract any seasonal shortfalls during the holidays.
Kampala/Nairobi/Geneva, 12 June – Red Cross teams are on high alert following the confirmation of the first Ebola case in Uganda.
According to the Ministry of Health, a five-year-old boy from Uganda returned from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) on 10 June. The child presented with Ebola symptoms and was transferred to an Ebola treatment unit in Bwera.
Robert Kwesiga, Uganda Red Cross Secretary General, said:
“This is a worrying development, but we have been preparing for this day for months now. We have been scaling up our efforts, in close coordination with government and other actors to help communities prepare for Ebola, and to contain its spread.”
The Uganda border is close to the epicentre of the DR Congo outbreak, which is now the second largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded.
Uganda Red Cross, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has trained hundreds of community-based volunteers in anticipation of the potential spread of Ebola. Volunteers have been trained in Ebola screening, as well as in risk communication and community engagement, community-based surveillance, and psychosocial support. In addition, Red Cross has procured equipment for safe and dignified burials and has provided training and technical support to Ministry of Health which will lead on the delivery of safe and dignified burials in Uganda.
Andreas Sandin, IFRC Operations Coordinator, said:
“We are ready to adapt and expand our support, but we must take stock of the lessons we have learned from the response in DR Congo.
“Epidemics and pandemics start and end in the communities – we need to ensure this remains a community-led response to ensure we prevent Ebola’s further spread.”
IFRC is also supporting the National Red Cross Societies of Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan to prepare for the potential spread of Ebola into their countries.
The National Society Investment Alliance (NSIA) today announced the results of its first round of funding, with accelerator investments awarded to the Red Cross Societies of Lebanon and Ukraine, and bridge funding awards made to a further eight National Societies (Armenia, Colombia, Comoros, Malawi, Namibia, Uganda and Zambia). Together this represents a combined total of nearly 1.5 million CHF.
Announcing the results of the first funding round, Co-chairs of the NSIA Steering Committee, Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, Under-Secretary General for Partnerships at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and Balthasar Staehelin, Deputy Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said:
“We are delighted to announce this first round of NSIA funding, the culmination of a process that has involved collaboration and cooperation from across the Movement, and demonstrates the demand and potential for investment in National Society capacity.”
To respond to the varied needs of National Societies, NSIA can award up to one million Swiss francs of accelerator funding to any one National Society over a five-year period. In addition, bridge grants of up to 50,000 Swiss francs over 12 months can help National Societies prepare the ground for future investment from NSIA or elsewhere.
To date, NSIA has been supported by generous contributions from the governments of Switzerland, The United States, and Canada.
First Round of NSIA Funding
The first call for proposals received 48 applications from National Societies across all regions, with a range of contextual challenges and organizational development needs. In response, the NSIA Office conducted an independent and objective process of consultation and review, working with colleagues from the IFRC and the ICRC at the national and regional level, as well as the National Societies themselves.
The Steering Committee agreed that the first 10 National Societies that will receive bridge funding are: Armenia, Colombia, Comoros, Lebanon, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Uganda, Ukraine and Zambia. Lebanon and Ukraine will receive the accelerator funding in this first round.
The proposals from National Societies speak to a wide-range of needs, and are underlined by the desire to increase their sustainability, independence and ability to provide relevant services to vulnerable populations. Key themes across the applications include: efforts to increase financial sustainability, develop system and structures at the national and branch level, and improve governance and accountability.
Selected National Societies
The Lebanese Red Cross will use a substantial accelerator investment grant to strengthen its Project Monitoring Evaluation and Reporting (PMER), communications, and fundraising capacity with the aim of meeting more than 70% of its core services costs through local sources by 2023.
Similarly, the Ukrainian Red Cross Society will utilise an accelerator investment to develop its resource mobilization capacities, building on initial planning and analysis and helping the National Society respond to the ongoing crisis in the country.
The bridge grant will support the Armenian Red Cross Society to develop a resource mobilization plan, focusing on un-earmarked income generation that is urgently required to meet ARCS programmatic activity needs.
The Colombian Red Cross Society will receive bridge funding to help develop, test and implement new initiatives which will ensure regular income, strengthening the National Society in three crosscutting areas: communication and marketing, reporting and training.
There is a need for the Comoros Red Crescent to enhance staff core competencies with regard to governance and financial management. The bridge grant will therefore allow the development of an investment plan for the National Society to best use potential future investment.
NSIA bridge grant funding will enable the Malawi Red Cross Society to conduct a thorough and detailed assessment of potential national level income sources, subsequently developing an investment proposal to pursue the most promising.
It is expected that through the bridge grant implementation, the Namibia Red Cross will be able to resolve a number a of critical challenges by consolidating its financial statements and systems, increasing financial liquidity and developing a forward-looking strategy.
The Nigerian Red Cross Society will receive bridge funding to help explore the opportunities for developing commercial first aid services in the country, conducting a detailed analysis and developing a business plan for future investment.
The Uganda Red Cross Society will receive bridge funding to work with its operational network of 51 branches to consolidate and improve its first aid training, and explore the possibility to unlock this resource and generate national level income.
With several institutional changes needed within the Zambia Red Cross Society in order to achieve its development goals, a bridge grant will allow the ZRCS to undertake a midterm review of its existing strategic plan and developed and improved strategic and investment plan looking forward.
Communities living along the porous borders of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remain at high risk of the spread of Ebola. Thousands cross each day to sell and buy goods, tend to their farm and visit family and friends. With the epicentre of DRC’s largest Ebola outbreak only 100 kilometers away from the Ugandan border, it is crucial to contain and stop the virus from spreading.
Uganda Red Cross, with support from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has been scaling up its response to help prepare communities and to prevent the spread of the virus. Volunteers are in high-risk areas, sensitizing communities about Ebola – providing information about the virus, what they can do to protect themselves, and screening the thousands of individuals who cross the border each day. Community engagement through music, drama, and mobile cinemas have also been employed to reach thousands of people.
“We would like to see communities that can easily detect diseases, potential epidemics and communities that can respond in case epidemics occur,” said Dr. Kasumba Joseph, Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Program Officer with the Uganda Red Cross.
“Most importantly we want communities that can actually prevent these epidemics. We are doing this through our volunteers.”
Karungi Shamillahis a Uganda Red Cross volunteer trained to educate families about Ebola and other health issues in her community.Photo: IFRC/Corrie Butler
Halting the virus before its spread through a real-time mobile system
Through Uganda Red Cross’ extensive network of community-based volunteers, a powerful surveillance system has been set up, in coordination with other actors and the Ministry of Health. This system helps stop the virus’ spread, detecting outbreaks before they happen.
Uganda Red Cross has trained community-based volunteers to recognize the signs of potential Ebola illness and to alert the authorities for follow up and care of people with such signs. With the help of the ‘Kobo Collect’ Mobile App, these cases are logged and are instantly shared with local health authorities for rapid action. If a case is detected the person can receive prompt treatment and the disease can be contained. This enables the reporting of any epidemic alerts in real time with low costs and resources.
“These communities being near the border are quite vulnerable. We have a lot of movement across the border, especially on market days, the risk of an Ebola outbreak is imminent,” says Kasumba, based in Bundibugyo.
“We have now trained 50 community-based volunteers who are using this technology as a surveillance tool to help prevent the threat of Ebola in Uganda.”
Only weeks after the training, volunteers have already started working in their communities where they hold sessions with community members and sensitize them about Ebola. Others, like Mugenyi Adam, have already sent out alerts to their supervisor.
“I have so far sent two alerts to my supervisor. I am proud that the community trusts me already and in case of any suspicions, I am the first one they call. This is what makes me proud – the response is so, so fast.”
He recalls one alert he submitted after conducting door to door community sensitization:
“A lady called me and told me her grand-daughter was sick, showing some of the symptoms of Ebola. I called my supervisor and informed him about it. I was amazed to see a response in just 25 minutes. They checked on the girl, took her to hospital and fortunately she tested negative for Ebola. I kept checking on the family to ensure that they were doing the right hygiene practices. I am so proud, I believe I saved her life.”
In Bundibugyo district, volunteers are conducting, what is called “passive” community-based surveillance. This means volunteers report alerts as they encounter them in the community while they conduct community health awareness activities. During large scale outbreaks, surveillance moves into an “active” phase where volunteers proactively reach out door-to-door ensuring alerts are quickly identified for a faster, more effective response.
Community-based surveillance, on its own, is not enough: coordination is key
Well before the community-based surveillance system was launched through the IFRC’s Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Program (CP3), significant coordination was done with stakeholders, including government ministries, health care workers, sectors for animal health, agriculture and environment, development partners, civil society, and the communities themselves.
“We have been trained in this approach by the Red Cross and we have worked closely with them to tackle community epidemics in this region. Given that Ebola is the major threat at the moment, all efforts have been focused on prevention and preparedness because of our proximity to neighboring Congo where Ebola has already killed many people,” said Dr. Samson Ndyanabaisi, the District Veterinary Officer in Bundibugyo district.
“The future of this project is very bright and the government always welcomes such support and collaborations.”
Communities remain at the heart of preparedness
With epidemics and pandemics continuing to take place around the world, it is increasingly important to ensure communities are prepared to respond in order to stop outbreaks early. Ebola is only one of the many health risks that IFRC’s CP3 is helping combat. The vision is that Uganda will use this as a model and continue to expand it to other epidemic and pandemic risks that are faced in the community, such as cholera or measles.
“As the Red Cross, we’re very strong at mobilizing to support communities when something happens. We’re one of the first who are there to take action. But we can do better than this,” explains Abbey Byrne, Community Based Surveillance Delegate with the IFRC.
“We’re also there before the epidemic. We can halt the spread instead of reacting once these diseases have already reached epidemic proportions.”
There is no one who understands a community more than its own. When challenges arise, they are the ones best suited to come up with the solutions. During epidemics, these community members are the first to respond and can, ultimately, save lives.
More about the CP3 programme
Launched in 2017 with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), IFRC’s Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Program (CP3) scales up efforts towards global health security. The program strengthens the ability of communities, National Societies and other partners in 8 target countries to prevent, detect and respond to disease threats and play a significant role in preparing for future risks.