COVID-19 response by UNHCR and refugees in Uganda receives major boost
Isaac Muto starts his daily work routine at 8:30 am before it becomes too hot. Armed with a megaphone, the South Sudanese refugee goes into his community in Uganda’s Rhino camp settlement to spread awareness on COVID-19.
“My focus is on hand washing,” says Isaac, 32, who works with the International Rescue Committee, a partner of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
He is one of 344 Village Health Team (VHT) volunteers in the settlement involved in the fight against COVID-19. The volunteers were trained in risk communication and community engagement in March, in preparation for the response.
“After I was trained, I began helping my fellow refugees to build tippy taps out of old oil cans. Now, everyone in my community has hand washing facilities in their homes,” he adds.
“Now, everyone in my community has hand washing facilities in their homes.”
The work that Isaac and his fellow refugees carry out in the camp is supported by UNHCR, who’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in Uganda has received a major boost through financial support from ECHO, the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department.
ECHO has contributed Euro 1 million towards the response, in addition to Euro 5.5 million provided earlier this year in support of UNHCR’s regular activities.
To further ensure that dedicated people like Isaac can continue to protect their own communities, UNHCR is using ECHO’s latest contribution to start constructing 12 quarantine and isolation facilities at the existing transit and reception centres, procure and set aside COVID-19 testing kits and supplies for infection prevention and control, and respond to outbreak alerts.
Julius Kasozi, a Public Health Officer with UNHCR in Uganda explains how the volunteers are playing a vital role in the response.
“They help report suspected COVID-19 cases and ensure that the community is aware of the risks and measures to reduce exposure,” he explains. “They are the most efficient and cost-effective extension of the health care system into the community.”
Isaac was appointed as a VHT thanks to his interest in the well-being of the community and inclination to help others.
“Many of my people died during the war back home,” says Issac, who fled to Uganda in 2016, following renewed conflict in South Sudan. “I don’t want to see my fellow South Sudanese dying here too, especially because of issues that are preventable.”
“They are the most efficient extension of the health care system into the community.”
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Uganda, he has successfully overseen the installation of tippy taps in over 800 homes in the camp.
“Even during my free time, I visit refugees in my neighborhood to make sure they wash their hands with soap and water,” he says.
UNHCR and the Office of the Prime Minister co-lead the refugee response in Uganda, coordinating humanitarian assistance and protection for over 1.4 million refugees. Since March, Uganda has confirmed 1,560 COVID -19 cases as of 15 August, including 60 refugees. The Ministry of Health has reported 13 deaths, including two refugees.
UNHCR and its partners work together with the Ministry to manage 19 quarantine facilities in refugee-hosting districts, train health workers, strengthen surveillance and infection prevention and control, and trace contacts of positive COVID-19 cases in refugee communities.