Battling COVID-19, from West to East
Across Indonesia, communities are stepping up to support the response to the pandemic
In the West:
By 9am, Pak Ucup and his team are heading out of the door, personal protective gear (PPE) on, spraying equipment in hand, ready to disinfect the Beurawe Health Centre.
It’s been two months since the team began working to disinfect public spaces in Banda Aceh. Established in March 2020 as part of the District Health Office’s COVID-19 response, Pak Ucup and his 12 colleagues typically cover five places daily including hospitals, health centres, mosques, government buildings and markets. Before the pandemic, their team was responsible for ‘fogging’ in communities to stop the spread of the dengue mosquito.
“This [disinfection] activity supports our services and helps to prevent COVID-19 transmission in our facility,” said Emi, a midwife at the health centre.
The activity is a part of the government of Banda Aceh’s response to reduce hospital-acquired infections by improving infection prevention and control. Through cooperation between UNICEF, the government of Banda Aceh and Yayasan Aceh Hijau, a total of 48 health care facilities across the province have been disinfected within a week from 14 to 20 May 2020, including the one in Beurawe. This number includes all 27 secondary health centres and 21 village health posts across Banda Aceh that have never received these services before.
In the beginning, Pak Ucup admits that he and his colleagues were fearful as many of them were not wearing PPE that was fit for purpose. But they soon devised their own ways to ensure the safety of themselves and their families.
“Some would not go home and would instead sleep at the office if they had sprayed the house of a person who was COVID-19 positive,” he explained. “Others would go home but wouldn’t go inside and slept on the terrace.”
Shortly after submitting a request to the local COVID-19 task force, his team was sent standard PPE which they continue to wear when carrying out these services.
Pak Ucup and his team will continue the disinfection services to more publicly accessible buildings in Banda Aceh. As the city has been identified as one of COVID-19 epicentres in Aceh Province, these services are critical to mitigating the spread of pathogens in both healthcare and non-health care settings.
In the East:
Gina is only seven, but she already knows that washing hands with soap is one of the most important things she can do, thanks to a dedicated village volunteer (cadre) named Ibu Pat.
Having been a cadre since 2013, Ibu Pat is well-known in her community for her tenacity and prompt reports. This month, Ibu Pat is helping to distribute soap to residents in her village and show them the correct way to wash their hands. This is part of the West Nusa Tenggara government’s COVID-19 response, supported by UNICEF.
In the past, she was involved in all kinds of community and health activities conducted by the health centre. But the pandemic brought an element of fear for her, especially when she needed to travel to the community for house visits.
“The biggest challenge is dealing with the stubbornness of community members,” she explains, thinking about when she sees people in the market and reminds them to keep their distance from each other or to wear a mask, but some refuse.
The 31-year-old admitted there are times when the job can be overwhelming. “Community members would reject me, sometimes even saying harsh words to me,” Ibu Pat said. But this hasn’t stopped her from doing her job. When she helps people like Gina and her family to resolve their problems, it brings joy to her heart.
Gina is the youngest of 3 siblings, and her parents work as labourers in a rice field. Before the pandemic, she would follow them to work every day, from morning to afternoon. But nowadays they are unable to leave the house as often. Their eldest son, who works on an oil plantation in Sumatra, used to send the family money. But he was also affected by the pandemic, so the family hasn’t received any money since.
Gina’s mother hopes that the pandemic will soon end so they will be able to leave the house again to earn additional income. Her daughter is also looking forward to when everything will go back to normal, so she can go and play with friends again.
For now, until that time comes, Ibu Pat does what she can to support her neighbours. By teaching them about washing hands properly with soap and water, she’s not only helping them to stay healthy, but also helping them avoid the cost of unnecessary visits to the health centre.
Ibu Pat and other cadres like her are part of the effort to fight COVID-19, which brings together the Government of East Lombok, UNICEF and other stakeholders working hand in hand.
Gina says she learned that washing hands with soap is the best way to stay away from the virus, so now she always washes her hands with soap at home.
Pak Ucup and Ibu Pat are just two examples of how the community is actively supporting the Government to fight the pandemic on the frontlines. They have to deal with their fears and must take extra precautions to not cause any harm to their loved ones, but they still wake up every day with a strong sense of purpose.
This activity is made possible with the support from the American People through USAID.