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Donated PPE Protects Health Workers in Africa during Polio Vaccination Campaign, Covid-19 Response

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In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, over 3 million children are being vaccinated by community health workers, or CHWs, in a polio campaign that aims to prevent a resurgence of the dangerous disease triggered by low vaccination rates. This campaign was made possible by a donation of personal protective equipment provided by the Covid-19 Action Fund for Africa, or CAF-Africa.

1,300 km away in Uganda, the government has decreed that CHWs will be at the center of its new Covid-19 initiative. Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda launched the new national strategy, in which CHWs will be paid a monthly allowance to fight Covid-19 at the community level. Many of those workers are expected to rely on the more than 6.6 million pieces of PPE that CAF-Africa has delivered to Uganda since the initiative was launched in August.

CAF-Africa is working to safeguard essential health services during the Covid-19 pandemic by providing PPE to up to 1 million CHWs in 20 African countries for one year. These workers provide health services to over 400 million people across Africa in communities otherwise underserved by formal health systems. CHWs contribute to significant improvements in health priority areas such as child nutrition, maternal and child health, expanding access to family planning services, and enhancing infectious disease control for HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. CAF-Africa is the only known effort to date that pools resources to provide CHWs in Africa with PPE.

“We have painful evidence of how disruptive infectious outbreaks are to routine essential health services, the preservation of life, and livelihoods,” said Jourdan McGinn, deputy executive director, Partners In Health, Sierra Leone. “Community health workers monitor, screen, refer, educate, and support families about Covid-19. When we ask them to work without PPE, we are putting them and their families at risk.”

The government of the DRC in October began a polio campaign that will vaccinate children in five provinces through the end of 2020. Over 8,500 CHWs in DRC will be administering polio vaccines, using face shields from CAF-Africa. In the coming months, CHWs in DRC will also be receiving face masks and gloves for routine health services.

“My fear was that I would miss out on the protective equipment, and if I didn’t apply the hygiene and barrier measures, I could get the coronavirus and pass it on to the children I vaccinate,” said Bibolo Mbo Odile, CHW in DRC. “Fortunately I now have the protective equipment. I’ve been a CHW since 2003, and all this time if I continue to do this job because I love this job.”

Twelve countries have received up to a six-month supply of PPE so far, including Côte D’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Over the coming weeks, CAF-Africa is mobilizing additional resources to get PPE to CHWs in Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia.

“In responding to emergencies, it’s very important to act both thoughtfully and quickly and not be paralyzed by indecision,” said Thomas Tighe, President, and CEO of Direct Relief, which anchored CAF-Africa with a $10 million commitment and has managed the PPE purchasing. “This Fund has made a big impact quickly, but there is much work to be done. Community health workers are essential to public health efforts.”

To date, CAF-Africa has raised $14.6 million and has received more than $5 million in in-kind donations. As of Oct. 1, as part of this effort, the World Food Programme has funded 11 flights carrying 275.6 tons of PPE from China to countries across Africa.

“The United Nations World Food Programme is proud to have supported CAF-Africa in the delivery of essential protective items to aid these countries in their fight against Covid-19,” said Alex Marianelli, WFP Director of Supply Chain. “Working together as a humanitarian community is key to this response, and this collaboration is a great example of that.”