AKDN remains committed to our countries and communities of operation during this crisis. While tracking the pandemic locally and globally in February and March 2020, several AKDN agencies such as the Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS), the Aga Khan University (AKU) and the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) engaged with national Ministries of Health to help raise funds for country-specific COVID-19 preparedness plans. The priority was to bolster government diagnostic and care capacities and secure much needed supplies and test kits.
By mid-March, an AKDN COVID-19 Taskforce was set up to mount a robust response to the pandemic across all agencies and the Imamat. The AKDN response ranged from front-line health workers treating patients and testing suspected cases to construction of additional health facilities to advising national authorities on their country’s response and preparedness.
AKDN's operations and programmes were also being adapted to complement those of governments. AKDN put in place contingency plans across all country offices to adapt operational procedures to quarantine measures and other restrictions where necessary; to maintain as much programme implementation as possible; to adopt remote-working or remote-delivery models where necessary and feasible; and to prepare for further restrictions on movement, meetings, or activities.
AKDN also utilised existing country networks to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by serving community needs, including support for public policies on self-isolation and quarantine; developing and introducing a spectrum of protocols for prevention, containment and care; and surveillance and case reporting. Addressing issues of economic wellbeing and social cohesion was a particular focus.
The AKDN COVID-19 Taskforce adopted three pillars for its work:
1. Slow and stop transmission, prevent outbreaks, delay and suppress the spread (or “flatten the curve”)
2. Provide optimised care for all patients, especially for the severely and critically ill
3. Minimise impact on communities, the vulnerable, social services and economic activity.
Pillar One: Slow and stop transmission, prevent outbreaks, delay and suppress the spread
The immediate work included increasing public awareness of COVID-19 and taking key actions to prevent its spread, such as deploying government messaging through all available platforms, identifying and filling gaps in messaging and materials, and launching campaigns to improve awareness about physical distancing. Guiding community actions to protect those most at risk of severe illness, such as the elderly, women, and people with underlying conditions, was particularly important. Given the geographies where AKDN works, much of the focus of the campaigns was reaching communities and individuals who were offline or lived in hard to reach geographies.
Examples of this messaging included:
After the focus on immediate need for public awareness, the focus shifted to individuals and communities, who were given tools to reduce the pressure on health systems. This included developing, scaling, and facilitating access to consultation for non-COVID-related health concerns as well as self-assessment tools to take decisions about seeking care for COVID-related symptoms.
These tools and resources included:
- Coronavirus self-assessment mobile app launched for Pakistan (AKUH - Pakistan)
- Migrants in Portugal (AKF)
- Using murals to raise awareness of COVID-19 in Kenya (AKF – Kenya)
When it became clear that the uncertainty, fear, and stress of a pandemic required scaling up psychosocial support and mental health awareness, AKDN agencies also responded with several initiatives. They encompassed campaigns to improve individual and community knowledge of danger signs, referral systems, and care providers. Other initiatives tackled the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, or the need not to blame ethnic groups:
- Pluralism and the pandemic: A new initiative by GCP
- Aga Khan Academy Mombasa’s class of 2020 reunites at a virtual graduation ceremony
- AKF supports mental health and psychosocial well-being during COVID-19
Pillar Two: Provide optimised care for all patients, especially for the severely and critically ill
The immediate work in Pillar Two included strengthening containment measures in areas with active cases and scaling up availability of testing. Both were critical to being able to have rapid response teams available to respond to clusters of outbreaks. Supporting government initiatives around tracing as well as scaling up and ensuring access to testing locations evolved to include identifying more sustainable testing approaches, constructing rapid response centres, strengthening the capacity for safe medical waste management and disposal, and refining surveillance of transmission by leveraging data.
- COVID 19 testing in Afghanistan (AKU-Afghanistan)
- AKAH builds better COVID-shelters (AKAH-AKHS-Pakistan)
- UCA Employees donate medicines to Khorog hospital (UCA - Tajikistan)
Related to this was the need to strengthen measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within health facilities while improving access to health services for those who needed medical attention. Working alongside government, AKDN facilities established joint prevention protocols and built healthcare worker access to personal protective equipment. At the same time, there was a focus on devising affordable or cost-free treatment for vulnerable households and safe referral mechanisms and transport to reduce delays in getting treatment.
- Enhancing readiness of emergency response volunteers in Tajikistan (AKAH-Tajikistan)
- AKHS launches Emergency Response Centre for COVID-19 patients in Booni, Pakistan (AKHS)
- Samira Kabani: COVID-19 - Courage and compassion on the frontlines (AKU-Pakistan)
In anticipation of a large increase in caseloads, there was a need to support robust case isolation and case management protocols. This included preparing facilities and staff for close coordination and division into disaster management groups in preparation for large numbers of patients that would require acute and critical care. Standard operating procedures were continually assessed. Health facilities, as well as businesses, were assured operational continuity through stockpiles and supply chains.
- Emergency response training for pandemics in Tajikistan
- AKHS launches Emergency Response Centre for COVID-19 Patients in Garamchashma, Pakistan
- UCA distributes 500 care packages to vulnerable population in Naryn
Pillar Three: Minimise impact on communities, the vulnerable, social services and economic activity
- AKF Education Resources (AKF - Global)
- Afghanistan: Remote learning Afghan style (AKES_Afghanistan)
- Time to read: Pakistan during Coronavirus (AKES – Pakistan)
It was also clear from the onset that there would be a major impact on livelihoods and food security. After conducting risk assessments and mapping vulnerable communities and households, food, seeds, stoves, and toolkits were delivered to the most vulnerable, remote households. In particular, there was a focus on creating and enhancing women’s economic power.
- COVID-19 support in Khatlon and Sughd regions
- Protecting farmer’s incomes during COVID-19 in Bihar, India (AKF - India)
- AKF develops youth skills to help rural communities respond to COVID-19 (AKF India)
At the same time, there were startups and small businesses who responded to market needs around COVID-19 that needed technical or financial assistance to expand. AKDN focused on encouraging enterprise creation, cash assistance, and ensuring access to critical infrastructure, like telecommunications, that otherwise might be impacted by the pandemic.
- HBL partners with Ehsaas to benefit 7.5 million in Pakistan (AKFED - Pakistan)
- AKTC-supported women’s craft enterprise in Delhi protects community by producing masks (AKTC - India)
- Laboratory services accelerate COVID-19 testing in Afghanistan
- Designing new solutions to support children’s learning during COVID-19
A critical component of this work across all pillars was leveraging data for rapid response to needs, concerns, and practices of the community. By relying and strengthening our existing connections with the communities with which we work, it allowed for cross verification, triage, and response on emerging needs. This data and multilateral communication were critical in informing AKDN’s engagement with government, private sector and civil society in support of the response.
Foundational to AKDN’s work has been working closely in partnership with civil society actors around the world to strengthen capacities for collective action, improve essential service delivery, nurture values-based societies, enhance indigenous philanthropy, and foster transparency and mutual accountability. Civil society has served as an amplifier of this response. For example, vulnerability mapping of households and communities in even the most hard-to-reach geographies was done thoroughly and quickly. When health systems risked being overburdened, Community Emergency Response Teams had been set up and continually trained long before the pandemic. Due to the AKDN’s longtime focus on building new linkages between civil society, private sector, government, and philanthropy, those communities most at risk were able to address their needs through access to government and private resources. This connection to support systems is critical to social cohesion and protecting the most vulnerable.
Over the last few months, in the face of a global pandemic, stories of hope, resilience and selflessness echoed across AKDN’s global community. To highlight and amplify these incredible stories from staff and community partners working at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis, we launched a Medium Publication: “AKF’s COVID-19 Response”. These are stories of how AKDN’s long-standing civil society work has led to stronger, faster, more innovative responses by communities.
- Community workers—the unsung heroes in the battle against COVID-19
- AKF develops youth skills to help rural communities respond to COVID-19
- Fighting fear and misinformation on three wheels
• 23/03/2020 AKDN Announcement (update on 14/04)
• 25/03/2020 AKDN COVID-19 Response Framework Formalised
• 26/03/2020 AKDN COVID-19 Task Force Stood Up
• 30/03/2020 AKDN Special Bulletin
• 08/04/2020 CoronaCheck App launched in Pakistan
• 15/04/2020 AKDN COVID-19 Mask Guidance
• 15/04/2020 AKDN COVID-19 FAQs
• 16/04/2020 AKF provides support for families to help children learn at home during COVID-19
• 05/05/2020 AKDN COVID-19 Stay at home and work
• 08/05/2020 AKF Tip and resources for educators during COVD-19
• 28/05/2020 CoronaCheck App launched in Tanzania
• 12/06/2020 AKF supports mental health and psychosocial well-being during COVID-19