JOINING EFFORTS TO COMBAT COVID-19 IN DRC, CAR, AND ROC
QUICK SHIFT IN PROGRAMMING
Less than one month after March 20, 2020, when the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced national measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, USAID began redirecting its existing budget to respond to the growing pandemic. USAID health, democracy, education and peace and security programs shifted $3.3 million to respond in the areas of risk communication, community engagement, infection prevention and control and surveillance and case investigation. The United States (U.S.) has provided approximately $79.7 million and 50 life-saving ventilators to support COVID- 19 efforts in the DRC, $1.5 million to Central African Republic’s (CAR) COVID-19 vaccination and response efforts, and $2 million to support COVID-19 vaccination operations and demand creation in the Republic of the Congo (ROC).
We support the Government of the DRC’s (GDRC’s) COVID-19 efforts, including prevention, response, and vaccination. USAID also ensures that target hospitals and health centers have the basic tools, training, equipment and materials needed to prevent and control COVID-19 infection. Our partners also promote social distancing, mask-wearing and other mitigation efforts. Since the launch of COVID-19 vaccination in April 2021, USAID has provided extensive support at the national and provincial levels, including for planning, coordination, logistics, and training. Given the robust vaccine hesitancy in DRC, USAID has supported community mobilization, communications, and other demand creation efforts.
In ROC, USAID/DRC worked with UNICEF to target populations in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire through mass media campaigns and community level messaging on COVID-19 vaccination efforts, data collection and analysis systems, and support for cold chain systems to maintain COVID-19 vaccines.
In CAR, USAID has worked with UNICEF to support COVID-19 vaccination campaigns while strengthening the routine immunization program. Together with the Government of CAR, we support the coordination and planning process of immunization activities, strengthening cold chain and logistics, and developing and disseminating messaging and communication to boost vaccination uptake.
In response to COVID-19 school closures, USAID adapted its education programs to provide interactive radio instruction (IRI) for grades 1 and 2 students. The 16-week interactive radio program, “Lecture pour la vie!” (Reading for Life!), prevented back-sliding and ensured that over 224,000 Congolese students remained engaged, while providing a measure of relief to parents and teachers. The Integrated Youth Development Activity also supported IRI for learners in second-chance education centers with community literacy volunteers providing support to households. Additionally, graduates of a USAID workforce development and entrepreneurship program developed a face mask production value chain, resulting in the sale of more than 4,500 masks, yielding valuable income for these sustainable youth-run microenterprises. Finally, USAID also supported the safe reopening of schools in February 2021.
USAID is providing health-related support and supplies to bolster water and sanitation activities. The geographic focus of this assistance is eastern DRC, where COVID-19 is affecting populations already displaced from violence and intercommunal conflict. USAID’s humanitarian partners conduct risk- communication, handwashing education and health-facility focused programs to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, with a particular focus on displaced households. Targeted health facilities have put into place additional triage and infection prevention and control protocols. The U.S. Government, in coordination with the DRC Ministry of Social Affairs, the World Food Program and UNICEF, will also provide food security assistance to vulnerable populations affected by COVID-19 in N'Sele, in Kinshasa.
DEMOCRACY AND GOVERNANCE
USAID’s Media Sector Development Activity, which increases community radio journalists’ capacity to address rumors and cover issues such as epidemics, works to increase urban and rural communities’ understanding of, and support for, measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Using its network of 98 community radio stations, civil society organizations and trained journalists, USAID’s partners quickly produced COVID-19 awareness and prevention media materials and combatted misinformation around COVID-19. Messages are reaching a wide range of audiences in seven languages in 14 provinces (Bas Uele, Haut Uele, Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, Maniema, Tanganyika, Kasai, Kasai Oriental, Kasai Central, Haut Katanga, Lualaba, Equateur and Kwilu). This activity also supported an online campaign, #RDCEnsembleContre COVID-19, which targets women and youth. Using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, the campaign has produced video messages with renowned Congolese female journalists who, speaking in French and several local languages (Lingala, Swahili Kivu, Swahili Katanga and Kikongo), discuss the pandemic and the need to prevent gender-based violence. USAID has leveraged funding for this activity from both the Swedish International Development Agency and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. With BHA Washington funding MSDA is collaborating on the Global Covid19 Program, this activity on awareness and countering fake news on COVID-19 started in September 2021 and will end in December 2022. Target provinces are: Tanganyika, Ituri, North and South Kivu.
USAID’s Integrated Governance Activity (IGA) has worked with 10 subnational governments to set up Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), composed of different ministry extension branches, civil society organizations (CSOs), and sub-national government offices, to coordinate efforts to respond to natural disasters and diseases. These multisectorial committees raise awareness of COVID transmission and prevention and provide equipment to health facilities in the local communities. In the past year, they have also launched several campaigns to increase awareness of COVID-19 and respond to popular concerns about the risks of vaccination. While the Ministry of Health has capabilities gained during the Ebola outbreaks to conduct contact tracing and vaccinations, they were still ill equipped at the local level to address the scale and rapid transmission of COVID-19, particularly in an environment with misinformation. Therefore, USAID’s IGA also provided sub-grants to local CSOs to lead advocacy and information campaigns as well. In total, they reached 360 schools, 8,755 households and 42,713 people in eight selected municipalities.
PEACE AND SECURITY
COVID-19 is creating new dynamics that have the potential to affect social cohesion and peace and development efforts, including increased criminal activity, higher prices at local markets due to food shortage and stigmatization of infected people. Building upon the successful interventions by USAID’s Solutions for Peace and Recovery Activity to engage the most marginalized local communities and increase social cohesion in eastern DRC, USAID is conducting rapid assessments of the impact of COVID-19. These assessments are occurring at the community, provincial and regional levels to provide direct support to community structures (e.g., local peace and development; water, sanitation, and hygiene; and health committees) and vulnerable community members, particularly women and other marginalized groups affected by COVID-19. USAID’s Counter-Gender Based Violence Activity is increasing awareness among eastern DRC community members and leaders about the COVID-19 pandemic, its prevention and response, including the availability of care services for survivors of GBV during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In CAR, USAID’s Connecting Citizens to Post-electoral Political Processes in CAR and Refugee Areas Project provides technical support to community radio stations to inform the population about the COVID-19 pandemic, incidences of associated armed violence and other related topics. The project provides fact-checking training for community journalists and produces a weekly program that is disseminated by 13 radio stations in Bangui and five provinces. USAID’s Central African Interfaith Peacebuilding Partnership trains religious leaders to prevent COVID-19 and helps these leaders mobilize their communities against the virus. USAID’s messages promote solidarity and social cohesion by building trust in the community, mitigating against exclusion and facilitating access to reliable information. USAID’s People to People/Ita na Ita Project in CAR integrates COVID-19 awareness and protection measures into radio broadcasts that address COVID-19 related threats to social cohesion, such as stigma and mental well-being, and provides messages of encouragement, unity, solidarity and self-care. Working directly with the CAR Ministry of Mines and Geology, USAID’s Artisanal Mining and Property Rights Project coordinates government messaging on COVID-19 to artisanal mining communities. This project trained mining communities to make water filters and organized a soap-making Trainers of Trainers course for women’s groups to improve local hygiene practices.
With support from USAID, Asili, a social enterprise, has built a platform selling clean water and primary health services at prices the community can afford. Asili health clinics and water points have earned the trust of the communities they serve by bringing improved quality and accountability to essential services. Asili’s health care team quickly created posters and brochures about COVID-19 in French and Swahili to help spread the word. The Asili team is on the frontlines of the response—counseling patients and worried families, patiently countering misinformation in the community, and helping staff treat potential COVID-19 cases safely and with compassion.