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COVID-19 Response Project in Nepal Part 4: Looking Back on What Was Achieved

 

The novel coronavirus that began spreading around the world from January has had a major impact in Nepal. A nationwide lockdown from March to June 2020 and strict travel restrictions made life difficult. Times were particularly hard for economically vulnerable persons affected by leprosy and their families, with the number of people going short of food rapidly increasing.

As of early November, Nepal has recorded nearly 186,000 coronavirus cases and over 1,000 deaths. Compared to neighboring India, these numbers are small but since August they have been increasing fast.

From June 10 to September 15, Sasakawa Health Foundation funded a comprehensive project to support communities of persons affected by leprosy adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic in four of the country’s 77 districts. Activities included advocating with government and stakeholders, providing emergency relief supplies and spreading information.

The project focused on the Terai region bordering India in the southern part of Nepal. Together with the NGO Nepal Leprosy Trust, which runs a major leprosy services center in the region, 25 self-help groups who were also beneficiaries of the project were involved in its planning and execution. Around 70% of the SHG members are persons affected by leprosy with the remainder made up of other persons with disabilities and those with lymphatic filariasis.

 

Advocacy

At the start of the project, SHG members visited local authorities in all the areas covered to obtain permission to proceed. This enabled them to work without restrictions during the lockdown and provide the support that people needed. They also held rallies—while observing social distancing—calling on people to protect themselves against infection and petitioning local authorities to provide persons affected by leprosy with medical and other services. In all, 10 rallies were held, with a total of 280 beneficiaries, citizens and supporters taking part.

Thanks to these activities, it was agreed that persons affected by leprosy in need of treatment for ulcers and other conditions would be allowed to use ambulances. This was very important for all those who could not get to hospital by public transport because of the lockdown.

The project also helped the SHGs build a good relationship with the local authorities; in several districts, applications submitted by SHGs for measures to improve their quality of life were accepted. In Sindhuli District, for example, SHG members will be able to receive vocational training in the coming days, while in Mahottari District, SHG members will receive 100,000 rupees (about US$840) to repair their homes.

 

Food supplies

A total of 600 members of 25 SHGs and their families received food supplies consisting of rice, beans, cooking oil and other items sufficient for a family of four for one month. They were also given soap and masks.

When handing out the emergency supplies, there were concerns that persons other than designated beneficiaries would turn up seeking support and cause confusion. Thanks to the presence of local government officials, however, distribution was completed without any major problems.

As a result of this project, beneficiaries were spared from going hungry and able to maintain a dignified life. In some cases, the beneficiaries in turn helped other persons in need. In Mahottari District, they shared some of the rice they received with those who were not on the list of recipients.

 

Information dissemination

With the aim of helping people in the community to become properly informed about the coronavirus and preventing its spread, various tools were used, including rallies, radio jingles, free telephone hotlines and social media. Radio messages covered not only coronavirus prevention but also initial symptoms of leprosy and the importance of receiving early treatment. As many people in Nepal listen to the radio daily, this information will have reached a large audience.

 

Although the project was conducted for a limited time on a pilot basis, it achieved better results than we anticipated. The rapid delivery of food to SHG members not only saved many from the worry of growing hungry but also provided them with the experience of helping each other out and getting through a difficult situation together.

SHG members also learned the correct way to wash their hands and wear their masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection. Sharing this knowledge with the public at large, they were able to strengthen their relationships with the wider community and the authorities.

Finally, thanks to SHG members’ perseverance in appealing to local governments, some districts approved applications for measures to improve the circumstances of persons affected by leprosy. As a result, this has opened up a path for them to climb out of poverty.

 

Check out the Facebook pages of Nepal Leprosy Trust for daily updates on their activities.

Related articles
2020/8/4 COVID-19 Response Project in Nepal

2020/8/27 COVID-19 Response Project in Nepal Part 2: Providing Relief Supplies
2020/9/18 COVID-19 Response Project in Nepal Part 3: Communicating Information

See here for more information about what our Foundation is doing to support communities of persons affected by leprosy during the COVID-19 pandemic.