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More than one year since the first COVID-19 case in Bangladesh, infection rates are reaching new records. The delta variant is spreading across the country. Despite the rampant spread of the infection in communities, there is still reluctance towards following healthcare guidelines.
According to data from the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), more than half the country’s 64 districts are already classified as high-risk zones, where daily COVID-19 positivity rates cross 31%.
Under such circumstances, there is no alternative to investing in equipping communities with the right tools and knowledge to bring effective behaviour change against the spread of COVID-19.
Read more: Community-based healthcare for COVID-19 response: Option or necessity?
On 1 June 2021, the Community Fort for Resisting COVID-19 project was launched by BRAC, in partnership with CSO Alliance and under the leadership and guidance of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), the Government of Bangladesh.
The intervention is being rolled out in 35 high-risk districts including Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gazipur, Mymensingh, Sherpur, Kishoreganj, Jamalpur, Tangail, Brahmanbaria, Khulna, Bagerhat, Magura, Narail, Satkhira, Chuadanga, Jashore, Jhenaidah, Sylhet, Habiganj, Chattogram, Comilla, Feni, Cox’s Bazar, Noakhali, Chandpur, Barisal, Bhola, Rajshahi, Bogura, Joypurhat, Chapai Nawabganj, Natore, Rangpur, Dinajpur, and Lalmonirhat.
Communities, if empowered with the right information and tools, can reduce the spread of this deadly virus in their own way. The objective of the joint task force is to fight against misinformation regarding the transmission of COVID-19, build awareness amongst people and reinforce mask wearing behaviour; thus empowering people within the community to build their own fort against the virus. In order to do this, the project focuses on establishing four key pillars.
Prevention: Behavioural change for COVID-19 compliant behaviour
COVID-19 compliant behaviours are promoted through household education. Existing committees (such as community groups and support groups) are engaged in COVID-19 awareness activities and rapid response. In addition, local government officials and leaders at mosques, transport hubs, markets, and schools have also endorsed the initiative to strengthen the community fort against the virus.
Mask distribution: Normalising wearing masks
Masks are distributed free of charge by 28,000 community health workers during household visits. More than 2,000 volunteers do the same in public spaces and hotspots where the virus transmission rate is higher (such as mosques, transportation hubs, tea stalls, salons). Information is also provided on how to properly wear a mask, with particular reinforcement provided on wearing masks in public spaces.
Response: Syndromic surveillance and quarantine support
Trained community health workers visit households to screen and identify suspected COVID-19 cases. Individuals who meet the clinical criteria are connected to free telemedicine services for further support.
These households also receive information on home management of mild and moderate cases, possible referral points and testing facilities, quarantine protocols and best practises to prevent further community transmission. Moreover, routine follow-ups are conducted to ensure quarantine compliance.
Vaccination: Registration and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines
The local government health offices are supported by BRAC for COVID-19 vaccination registration and mobilisation. Misinformation and rumours regarding vaccination in the community are being addressed through communication campaigns disseminated via community radio, cable TV and social media. Community health workers are also engaged in promoting vaccination during their household visits.
In conclusion, the project comprises these four core sets of interventions – free mask distribution, awareness building for prevention, immediate response and vaccine promotion. It is time to equip communities with the tools to be champions in the fight against COVID-19. The aim is to slow down the transmission rate, save lives and preserve the health system capacity, through facilitating positive behavioural change within the community.
MD Yazdani is a Communications Specialist at BRAC Communications