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From the Country Director’s Desk

Bulbul Sood

Hope you are all well and safe!

These are undoubtedly unprecedented times. We are dealing with, possibly, the worst pandemic of our lifetimes, forcing an abrupt paradigm shift in the way we live, work and interact with the world.

It weighs heavy on my heart that by the time you receive this mail, the numbers would have galloped further, and the world would be close to having almost two million people infected with the coronavirus disease. In India, the positive COVID-19 cases have crossed the 5-figure mark. We continue to observe the world’s biggest lockdown, now extended by our Prime Minister, asking its 1.3 billion population to stay home till May 3rd 2020, in a bid to flatten the curve and promote social distancing, the most effective weapon in our armory at present. 

Among the brave hearts who are at the frontline of the war against this invisible enemy are our health workers, risking themselves every day to help contain this pandemic, care for those affected, and save lives.

Their commitment and selflessness is inspirational. Among them, are not just the seasoned providers, but also those who have just entered this profession, like 25-year-old Nurse Chetna Sharma, who received her first posting just three months back as a Community Health Officer (CHO) at Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Center (AB-HWC), Sagod, in Dewas District of rural Madhya Pradesh.

Interestingly, Chetna would have been equally delighted to join the Indian Army, and now as a health care professional, she finds herself on the frontlines fighting this elusive enemy. Dedicated to the cause of ‘serving her country’ Chetna is spreading awareness about COVID-19 and removing myths and misconceptions surrounding the disease. She has used ingenious ways to communicate in the six villages that her AB-HWC caters to, using mikes so that people can hear her without having to congregate outside their homes, roping in the regional police to join her in spreading awareness to increase impact, and even having a local tailor stitch handmade masks for her community and peers. 

Her HWC being close to Indore, a COVID-19 hotspot reporting many positive cases, many migrant workers are returning daily to these villages, and Chetna is ensuring that they remain in quarantine and isolate themselves from their families, following up with each of them on a regular basis. She does all this over and above her regular duties at the Sagod HWC. In fact, about three weeks back, she has temporarily shifted into the AB-HWC to be able to give all her time to her work and service, and to gain the trust of her community, which is so essential in these uncertain times.

As a global leader in public health, it is the duty of every Jhpiego team member to provide all possible support to health workers like Chetna and ensure that they have the knowledge and expertise to deal with the pandemic and protect their communities.

We at India office acted fast and developed learning resource packages (LRPs) for training primary health care teams including CHOs, auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs), and tele-counselors handling COVID-19 response centers in states. We also developed IEC material in the form of posters, handouts and job-aids for awareness generation among different sections of the society, including service providers. With severe restrictions on movement, we leveraged technology and conducted all these trainings using virtual platforms.

We could move in quickly, thanks to support from our donors – USAID,  Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, MSD for Mothers, Packard Foundation, Alliance for Saving Mothers and Newborns and others. Of course, our response could never have been so prompt if we did not receive complete support of the state governments and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare at the national level, and we are eternally grateful for that. So far, more than 17,000 healthcare providers have received training by Jhpiego staff, and Chetna is one of them. 

The training gave me a platform to ask questions. Earlier, I used to look up information on Google and other sites to find out more about COVID-19. But, this training provided information in a structured way. I was able to know the myths and the facts, and this has been quite useful as I work with my community.
– Chetna Sharma, Community Health Officer

Jhpiego continues to work closely with various state governments to provide rapid response to any COVID-19 related needs, whether it be mapping of essential suppliers of personal protection equipment, masks and ventilators for enabling rapid procurement, or supporting certain state governments in the assessment of districts preparedness for quarantine and isolation facility/ ward at district hospitals for containing this highly contagious novel coronavirus. Many in our staff are active members of certain state level COVID-19 rapid response teams. 

There is no better time to share and collaborate as ONE in this fight against the pandemic. So, we have freely shared USAID supported NISHTHA’s training material created for CHOs on COVID-19 with National Disaster Management Authority for wider circulation, nationwide dissemination and use beyond the NISHTHA intervention states. Knowing the importance of protecting mental health during an infectious disease outbreak, the NISHTHA program team is also supporting the social justice ministry in setting up a mental health helpline, besides leveraging its own social media handles along with intervention state governments for generating awareness on COVID-19.

One of the biggest collateral damages such pandemics have is on regular services like family planning and maternal and child health. It goes without saying that pregnant women, new mothers and their newborns continue to require quality care. So, through our programs like Manyata, supported by MSD for Mothers, we prepared a slide-deck including posters/handouts to take care of antenatal, laboring and breastfeeding mothers in the context of COVID-19. At present, not only is the Manyata team leveraging digital platforms and conducting orientations for Manyata certified private maternity facilities, but Jhpiego staff working in other programs, such as the Born Healthy program supported by Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, is also using this material and conducting COVID-19 facility preparedness orientations for public health facilities via Zoom, after receiving the approvals from the state governments. As I write this, these orientations are being held in the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh.

With the pandemic rapidly evolving and situations changing minute to minute, Jhpiego program teams are in regular touch with providers at the intervention facilities, government officials and donors, for continuing our work and services included in the programs, with special attention to COVID-19. All of us at Jhpiego are making full use of technology, using virtual platforms to stay connected and fully engaged.

Friends, as I said, these are unprecedented times, and we realize that no effort is too small in public health, and needless to say, we’ll continue to listen and adapt, and do all that we can for the health workers, who are working day and night to save lives.

I leave you with the words of Nurse Chetna, which shows how those at the frontline also feel many emotions, but choose to be brave and lead with an attitude of service – 

If we as health workers panic away from our duty, how will we be able to help the people. This is a tough job, but my attitude is up to me. I could do the same thing with grudges, irritation, fear or do it with commitment. I feel performing my duties responsibly and with dedication is a better way to work, and that’s the attitude I choose.
– Chetna Sharma, Community Health Officer

Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Warm regards,

Jhpiego believes that when women are healthy, families and communities are strong. We won’t rest until all women and their families—no matter where they live—can access the health care they need to pursue happy and productive lives.

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