‘We need to learn how to live with COVID-19’
Most of our humanitarian colleagues have never been in a similar crisis, only the most seasoned recognize it.
-What is your name?
Alama Keita, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist at UNICEF Niger
-What is your job at UNICEF in Niger? Since When? In a few words, what does your job consist of?
I have been fighting cholera at UNICEF since 2011. I am currently responsible for the regional platform against the disease in the Lake Chad region, including Cameroun, Nigeria, Chad, and Niger, but my work has mutated with the arrival of COVID-19. With UNICEF I support the Nigerien government and partners on the ground in coordinating preventive actions, community engagement, control supplies, and healthcare provision to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on children and women across the country.
-Can you tell us about your experience with UNICEF during COVID-19? How was it?
An important aspect is a change in our operating modes to carry out our responses on the ground. We have had to reinvent ourselves, be more creative and imaginative to ensure that together with our partners, aid arrives on time and where is need it. That has been an important factor since the start of the pandemic in Niger.
-Why do you think the community plays a crucial role against COVID-19?
Another key aspect of this pandemic is that the response must have the full involvement of the community, always accompanied by the Government and partners. It means that if the community does not seriously integrate the prevention messages, it will be very difficult to stop the impact of COVID. In the end, is it individual decisions that make the difference.
We are learning something new about COVID every day. It is a situation that evolves every week. One week you prepare something and the next you have to re-adapt the plan. That's because we daily learn from the virus and everything around it. For example, it is different from cholera in the way it is transmitted. The distance, the masks, the elbow when coughing ... All these habits are new and we must get used to them. In fact, we must get used to living with the virus respecting the measures.
Has your work been affected by COVID-19? if yes, how?
Living with the pandemic made us appreciate certain aspects and draw important lessons. For example, the need to invest in health and hygiene services for communities. We cannot leave the most basic social service aside, we have already seen the impact that a health crisis of this type has on our lives. This pandemic has touched all levels of society, particularly the most vulnerable children and women. This is a children´s rights crisis. They are the ones that most need us at this moment.
- Could you describe your motivations and the reasons which push you to continue to work/multiply the efforts in favor of children - and this despite the difficult context? Why is it important to maintain our operations for the well-being of children and families?
When I think about the risks children are facing and will face COVID-19, I find all the reasons to continue working to support them. The crisis is not only having a major impact on the water and hygiene sector, it is also increasing the poverty and inequality levels, forcing the absence of children at school, or increasing the malnutrition levels. More than ever, it is fundamental to work together and in the same direction as our partners.
-Do you want to share another element about your work these days on the front line in Niamey? your daily experience, your motivations, your interactions with affected people, your worries if you have any?
If we do not continue to pay attention to other challenges such as measles, polio, natural disasters or the on-going humanitarian crises in Niger, these factors can have a greater impact than COVID itself.