Whatworks Round Table

Year : 2020
Countries : Somalia

As the COVID19 crisis unfolds in Somalia one of the weakest health systems in the word is rapidly reaching its limits, and the economic impacts are already starting to surface mostly due to the global economic impact of the C19 response, particularly for remittances. As the pandemic spreads sick individuals are reported to be choosing to stay at home rather than seek help from health facilities.

Stigma related to Covid19 has also been reported to be negatively affecting Somali community’s use of prevention strategies such as physical distancing and wearing masks. Many of the basic prevention activities promoted through social media, radio etc. are impractical if not impossible for households to use. Consequently, adaptations of the actions promoted through the current top down approach are urgently required.

Influential religious leaders are promoting mixed messages about Covid19 and its relationship to Islam as well as the necessary adaptations of religious activities needed. Nevertheless through discussions with ordinary Somali’s as well as local formal and informal leaders such as religious, elders, youth groups and business leaders, are reporting that they are trying to adapt their day to day life and supporting communities to do the same.

As humanitarian experts, building on experience from Ebola and previous crises in Somalia, we feel the traditional humanitarian response is just not going to be possible or appropriate for logistical and physical distancing reasons amongst others.

As humanitarian experts, building on experience from Ebola and previous crises in Somalia, we feel the traditional humanitarian response is just not going to be possible or appropriate for logistical and physical distancing reasons amongst others.
We seek to establish a discussion on what is a community led humanitarian response to Covid19? And how can this be implemented? Can the public health and humanitarian system be restructured around community efforts? Genuine community designed and driven actions not just a delegated work plan? There are many questions that we need to answer to give key actors the confidence to try this. For example:

    • Can community, business and religious leaders reliably lead RCCE and IPC activities?
    • How can external actors facilitate this leadership? What is the role of LNGOs in this facilitation? And how do we support and channel resources to these community responses?
    • And ensure that frontline responders have all the necessary tools, skills and protection to protect themselves and shield vulnerable members of the community
    • Can we engage and leverage on overlapping systems of social support like the clans, private sector and religious leaders whilst limiting marginalisation, diversion, etc.?
    • How does the cash transfer programme need to be adapted to the unique context of Covid19 beyond adaptations of the existing cash transfer programmes focusing on protection and physical distancing?

To date, the Centre for Humanitarian Change has facilitated two round table discussions.All participants to the first meeting agreed on the need to prioritize a community-based and locally-led approach that leverages primarily the role of religious leaders but also that of other local leaders (business, informal leaders and gatekeepers) who can speak to people from a place of trust and therefore mobilize people towards an effective and unified response. An “army” of volunteers, community leaders, representatives of the diaspora, should be equipped to understand, adapt and support communities to use key health and protection actions. Participants also agreed that the community led approach should not be seen as a separate approach form the classic NGO and UN led humanitarian system and should be an equal partner in existing leadership and coordination structures.

Core priority issues identified include:

  • Need to strengthen the community health system. A lot of the protection measures and organization of the COVID-19 response need to be managed at the community level through community health workers that are able to organize and adapt infection control.
  • Need to organize effective communication campaigns aimed at reducing the stigma associated with the virus. With particular attention to the role of religious and business leaders.
  • Need to consider both the urban and the rural dimension of the crisis including the need to change the lenses through which we define a “community” in a way that includes urban communities as well.
  • Need to provide economic support.
  • Need to keep in mind the security aspect of the crisis.

Round table discussion 19 May 2020

This roundtable involved active stakeholders in Somalia, namely, ICRC and SRCS. The discussion followed themes on risk communication, government action and coordination and cash transfers. From this discussion there was an observed need for a community health subgroup (as part of health cluster or independent) to work on practical details of a Community Based COVID response. The leaders of which will be identified as the discussions evolve bringing in relevant stakeholders at the community level.


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