By the middle of July, Sierra Leone has over 1,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 64 deaths. The first official case of the virus was confirmed on 31st March. As a result, the Government of Sierra Leone introduced travel and operations restrictions in addition to a 12-month state of emergency. In response, GOAL has adapted many of its programmes to continue operations in the new context of Covid-19.
Sierra Leone is one of the more vulnerable countries in West Africa. Although the country is yet to see a major outbreak of COVID-19 occur, there is widespread community transmission and fears continue to grow that the virus may overwhelm the fragile health system.
In 2014-15, Sierra Leone, along with neighbouring Guinea and Liberia experienced a major outbreak of Ebola that led to the deaths of over 1,500 people. GOAL was at the forefront of the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone, developing the Community-Led Action approach to tackling the spread of the virus.
As a result, our team on the ground has first hand experience in infectious disease control and is using this expertise to combat the spread of COVID-19.
GOAL’s Hygiene Promotion Superviser in Sierra Leone, Shirley Browne said “GOAL is at a huge advantage in Sierra Leone in fighting COVID-19 because we have front line workers who were with us during Ebola, and rich experience of social behaviour change, of health system strengthening and supporting the MoHS.”
Community Led Action (CLA)
GOAL has been on the ground responding to COVID-19 from early April, days after COVID-19 was detected in Sierra Leone. GOAL’s initial response has been focused in the capital Freetown, given that Freetown is the epicentre of the outbreak. GOAL has provided hundreds of handwashing materials, IPC supplies and orientation on how to wash hands properly at GOAL supported health care facilities in Freetown.
This was further scaled up by organizing community mobilisers under our Community-Led Action approach. These mobilisers have engaged with their communities on COVID-19 and infection prevention control, across 90 communities in Freetown. GOAL is continuing the CLA approach across Freetown to trigger communities to adopt safer behaviours in light of COVID-19.
GOAL also provided IPC supplies to 18 facilities and together with local health authorities, erected screening stations at the entrances.
So far, we have provided over 200 litres of hand washing materials to 28 health facilities and 60 hand washing stations in western Freetown.
GOAL, in conjunction with local authorities has trained 34 health facility staff on IPC with focus on COVID 19. GOAL has also trained and deployed 144 community mobilizers to educate commnuities on COVID-19 prevention. The community mobilizers are engaging in 15 different in neighbourhoods. Through this process the communities are developing doable action plans. The mobilizers follow up to see the progress of the community and to share with the community any new information and collect community feedback
With only minor access to the internet and TV, radio is often the main source of information to people in Sierra Leone. As a result, GOAL is conducting a public health information campaign via local and national radio across four stations and in four different languages.
Although most of GOAL’s activities are focused in Freetown, GOAL has also organised information campaigns in Moyamba, Bombali, Kambia and Koinadugu districts.
The health system in Sierra Leone is drastically under equipped to cope with large outbreaks of Covid-19. There are only 13 ventilators in the country, and just two local doctors who are trained in how to use them. GOAL is working with the Department of Health to enhance the capacity of the health system. GOAL has bought 36 Oxygen concentrators to be distributed to district hospitals across the country. In addition GOAL has supported local hospitals in designing and printing of over 2 million information materials relating to COVID-19 prevention.
In addition, GOAL clinical staff have embarked on training dozens of clinical and non-clinical health staff. This training has focused on proper hand hygiene, triaging, patient care and waste management.
Food and Nutrition
Throughout this crisis, Sierra Leone has experienced a series of rolling three-day lockdowns. For many people whose livelihoods depend on day-to-day earning, lockdowns and quarantines can have a disastrous effect on their food supply. As a result, the GOAL Sierra Leone team has been assisting Freetown City Council to distribute essential food items to people in the capital currently in quarantine due to their Covid-19 symptoms. This programme has seen these 142 quarantined individuals receive items such as water, oil, rice and beans.
This GOAL/Freetown City Council initiative aims to ensure that those in quarantine have enough food and water, as well as to show the local community that quarantine will not result in neglect or hunger. By demonstrating to communities that they will be provided for while in quarantine, it is hoped that those who might have Covid-19 will self-isolate to prevent the spread of the virus. Many of those affected in Freetown live in densely packed living conditions, where social distancing is difficult. As a result, those with Covid-19 or symptoms of the disease are being housed together in quarantine facilities to prevent further community transmission.
Closing borders might help contain the spread of Covid-19 but it does not stop human trafficking.
At a time of crisis, vulnerability increases exponentially. The systems designed to support victims of trafficking can break down as limited resources are redirected to fighting the pandemic. Closing borders to suppress Covid-19 infections may seem to discourage trafficking. However, there are concerns that this has simply driven traffickers to find new routes and thus spreading the impact of human trafficking on young girls.
GOAL has partnered with the European Union, World Hope International, the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, to fight against child labour, human trafficking and indecent work across Sierra Leone.
Together we seek to reduce the prevalence and acceptance of child labour and human trafficking and promote decent work and human rights for women and youth in the informal sector. Since 2017 we have engaged in monitoring and advocacy, provision of training to law enforcement staff, immigration officers, union leaders and communities at large, engagement and establishment of community structures to support the victims of exploitation.
In times of Covid19 this means enhancing also national authorities’ infection, prevention and control capacity – notably at border posts. IPC materials have been delivered to the Immigration Department in 26 borders post in four different districts.
You can find out more about our child protection work in Sierra Leone here.