The COVID-19 Webinar fever has hit the ground running!!
So, it turns out the widespread travel bans have deprived our professional “workshoppers” of their regular local, regional and international travels; a big disappointment to some, and a refreshing rest to others, depending on what really motivates the travel. Many have now discovered that they can hold meetings as effectively online as they do when they traverse continents to hold the same meetings in person or face to face. The travel bans have also ushered in a tsunami of invitations from organisations and entities everywhere hosting COVID-19-related webinars on various topics. It is at that point, where I just want to say STOP!!!
COVID-19 is an emergency. We all know its impacts will be worse in Africa than anywhere else because of preexisting poverty, weak health structures, poor leadership etc. We do not need webinars to articulate this over and over again in different formats by different speakers. What we actually need is action to prevent further spread of the disease and reduce its impacts on communities.
For those who are anxious to actually do something, here is a list of practical things that can help avert a catastrophe in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa;
- Prepare African communities to be COVID-19 ready so they can weather the storm when it hits.
- Deliver, sanitisers, masks family size and individual tents to families to facilitate isolation at home,
- Supply relevant and adequate drugs and PPE to clinics, and train the health workers
- Ensure communities have access to water and food.
- Provide necessary information technologies to facilitate communication with those in isolation, and dissemination of correct COVID-19 information.
- Ensure existing patient needs are not neglected as focus is shifted to COVID-19, e.g. patients with chronic conditions such as cancer, HIV, etc that still require movement for access to therapy and medications, as well as patients in need of palliative care.
Yes indeed, developing action plans to achieve this efficiently and in a coordinated manner might need a webinar. However, an endless series of webinars where participants are the usual members of our circles (now turned COVID-19 experts overnight) talking to each other is not what we need. What we need are conversations between NGOs, scientists, frontline workers, and the communities talking disease prevention so that lock downs are not prolonged.
The savings made from travel and all the cancelled meetings and workshops must now be redirected to support communities to create safety nets for people that are likely to loose their jobs, sex workers that cannot work due to lock downs, women who are unable go to the markets through cash grants and pooling of food support and other strategies.
Lessons & structures from previous epidemics
Many of the tools, systems and structures that were created at the community level for HIV and TB can be used for the COVID-19 response too. The same volunteers can be re-tooled, traditional leaders can lead the setting up of community isolation centres in the village, food distribution and community radios can deliver school programmes if each family gets a radio. If we did all this, we will have very little time left for only critical webinars.
Lois Chingandu is a Leadership and Community Development Specialist. She is currently the Director of Evidence and Influence for Frontline AIDS Global