By Dr Enida Friel
The number of Covid-19 cases and deaths that we are faced with currently in Ireland is grim. Despite a huge effort from the Irish public, our frontline workers, the Government and NPHET, the number of new infections remains high, and far too many people continue to die.
Unfortunately, this is no surprise given that the UK variant of Covid-19 – thought to be more infectious – now makes up approximately 60% of our new infections. While vaccines are here, and will eventually reach all of us, they cannot come fast enough for so many.
But until then an Ireland and a world free of Covid-19 where we can work, study, play and hug our loved ones, will not be achieved without a coordinated local and global response.
First off, we need to put communities at the heart of our response and give them power to take action to stop, minimize and eventually eliminate the number of new infections in their areas. This can be done working closely with local public health professionals to test, trace and isolate all infections, while also enforcing travel restrictions to prevent new infections coming into the area.
This is an approach advocated for last month by scientists writing in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. Germany is already discussing a ‘No Covid Strategy’ aimed at developing local ‘green zones’, which could be gradually expanded to reach the entire country. It is a strategy worth considering in Ireland and other countries in the world battling Covid-19.
In GOAL we know this makes sense. GOAL developed and implemented the Community-Led Action (CLA) approach which contributed to effective control of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014. This approach is central to our response to Covid-19 in 14 countries in Africa, Latin America and Middle East.
Under the CLA approach GOAL is working with communities developing action plans at local level to isolate, shield those most at risk, and manage cases of infection. This involves offering practical household hygiene guidance and supporting communities to plan to control their movements and still be able to sustain their daily income.
Working with communities, health care workers, governments and donors GOAL has reached over 17 million people with Covid-19 awareness messaging and supports since March 2020 using radio, social media, mobile phones, mobile trucks and community conversations. Over 1,000 health facilities have been supported with infection prevention and control measures.
However local responses alone like those adopted by GOAL are not enough. They will not stop the virus travelling from one community or country to another. Add to that the new variants of the virus that are emerging and the astounding differences between the ability of low/middle and high-income countries to access, and roll-out vaccines to their citizens. A coordinated local and global response is needed.
There is cause for optimism with the arrival of the new Biden administration in the US, and a President committed to international cooperation and multilateralism. The USA can assume a leadership role, rallying the EU, the African Union and other countries. It adopted this leadership role under President Obama, working with WHO, public health authorities, law enforcement and local communities to successfully control the Swine Flu and Ebola epidemics.
With Ireland now a member of the UN Security Council, we can also be a facilitator of a global response to Covid-19 which is a security threat as it continues to decimate people’s lives and livelihoods. It is only with coordinated local and global action that we can dream of an Ireland and world without Covid-19. As Dr. Mike Ryan has put it: “nobody is safe, until all of us are safe”.
Enida Friel is a medical doctor with over 20 years of public health and infectious disease control experience in Africa, Asia and Europe. She is GOAL’s Head of Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning.