OP-ED: Training nutrition workers across Somalia to provide life-saving services amid COVID-19
Information and good guidance to keep more Somali children and women safe and healthy.
Somalia confirmed its first case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Mogadishu on March 16th, by April 14th online training for over 100 nutrition NGOs working in Somalia had begun.
Somalia faces more crises and challenges than most countries in Africa, and indeed the world. Emerging from over two decades of civil war, replacing unstable, fragile systems with fruitful, flourishing ones is a constant challenge. Tackling COVID-19 alongside insecurity, floods and a locust invasion in various parts of the country was not going to be easy, but the Somalis are rightly known for their resilience.
The priority was to act fast with the right information to save lives, protect children and ensure they continue to safely access the services they need to grow and develop.
UNICEF Somalia’s nutrition team led a two-week series of online trainings and repeat trainings with the support of the health section, the nutrition cluster, World Food Programme and the Ministry of Health. Trainings covered three thematic areas: malnutrition, infant and young child feeding and key messages for community health workers. The appetite for information was immense. NGO partners joined the online trainings early and stayed late to have all their questions answered. When rains interfered with internet stability in Somalia, partners’ internet connections dropped but they persevered and re-joined the meetings. After two weeks of initial and repeat trainings almost 500 questions had been asked and answered by 372 participants, numbers that have never been reached by online training in Somalia before.
Webinars were recorded in English and Somali to ensure partners who might have missed the training could still benefit from it and share it with their colleagues. By June 9th recordings had been viewed over 1,000 times and downloaded more than 50 times. Incredible dedication.
The first webinar started with a COVID-19 quiz to engage participants and gauge knowledge in the early days of the virus. Questions like ‘How is the coronavirus disease (covid-19) transmitted?’ were asked and participants eagerly shared their answers. In the webinars a week later, partners already knew more about the virus and better understood how to protect themselves and others.
We used polls to ask participants questions through the webinar, to help with active engagement and learning. Polls also helped us to learn where the gaps were and address them in the next webinar.
Webinar participants were also invited to participate in a questionnaire after each webinar. 45% of people participated in the surveys and we learned that 40% of people had never used Zoom (our webinar platform) before. Some feedback received from participants included comments like ‘Lots of questions made it interactive’, ‘The training gives us important information about COVID-19’, ‘I liked the way the presenters expressed their knowledge of the context’ and ‘The emphasis on key prevention methods was something I liked’.
Participants also shared concerns about implementing the physical distancing in the context of Somalia, especially in over-crowded environments such as internally displaced people’s camps. In Somalia, as in other countries, myths and rumours travel faster than facts. Common myths reported in the community, according to respondents, included the perception that ‘This is not an African disease’, ‘It cannot survive in the hot climate’, ‘Muslims will be protected from COVID-19’ and ‘It is just the flu and not something to be taken seriously’.
In the weeks after the webinars, partners shared their experiences of how COVID-19 was impacting their work and how they were acting on the new information they had learned. They reported taking care of their communities; combatting myths and rumours; encouraging safe physical distancing at health facilities and mobilising community health workers to safely continue house-to-house visits while remaining outdoors. Of course, celebrating Eid was quieter than usual with families doing their best to respect social and religious customs while also protecting their health and the health of their neighbours and families.
I believe the early initiation of the training played an integral part in preparing nutrition workers across the country to continue providing life-saving services while staying safe. It ensured the best possible preparations for our partners on the ground to modify their activities to limit the spread of the virus and it provided best practice information to counter rumours.
The Ministry of Health and partners have now taken the lead to cascade the training further to more partners and staff across the country. As the information and good guidance keep spreading, we have a better to chance keep more Somali children and women safe and healthy. Together we can beat this.