The initial case of COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa was confirmed in Nigeria on Feb 27, 2020. This was followed by the first regional death in Burkina Faso on March 18, 2020. Since these initial happenings, more than 3.8 million cases and 100 000 deaths have been confirmed in Africa.
Despite initial fears of a devastating spread and high mortality of COVID-19 in Africa, mainly because of the weak immune system as a result of high frequencies of HIV, tuberculosis, and co-infection in combination with weak health systems, the toll of the pandemic has remained lower than expected.
However, the spread of the Covid 19 across Africa has had devastating effects on health workers, the supply chain, and negative psychological effects on health workers and the general population.
North Star Alliance has over this period worked closely with partners and relevant government ministries across the region in the fight against COVID-19. Given the mobility nature of the clients we serve, we swiftly placed several measures and plans to keep up with our commitment to providing healthcare to mobile workers in Africa during this pandemic.
Integrating prevention measures plan into our normal programming
At North Star Alliance we are committed to ensuring truck drivers lead a healthy life even as they cross borders daily to ensure essential products are moving to stores, hospitals, and elsewhere during this unprecedented time.
To ensure this, we integrated COVID-19 prevention measures in our daily routine clinical services across all our roadside wellness centres, also called Blue Boxes. Our Blue Box facilities were also prepared to respond to the increasing cases of coronavirus; how to identify a case once it occurs, and how to properly implement infection prevention and control (IPC) measures to ensure there is no further transmission to our clinical staffs, counselors or other patients in the facilities.
To ensure clean and quality healthcare to all and safety in all our Blue Box clinics, we ensured every client visiting our Blue Boxes clinics for HIV testing and counseling, STI testing, and general consultation, are screened and those with suspecting symptoms referred to partner facilities for testing, treatment, and isolation. We developed a triage score to ensure this is done per the WHO standard.
Our Blue Box clinics are also fitted with handwashing and sanitisers for all clients and staff accessing our clinics and ensured everyone visiting our clinics is masked up. To bolster this we demonstrated proper handwashing to the truck drivers and communities around, engagement with communities to explain how they can avoid the virus and what needs to happen when someone in the community contracts the virus.
Besides, we set up mobile drop-in centres in the local community, to remove the accessibility barrier caused by extra travel costs or restrictions, resulting from new government-enforced lockdown measures.
COVID-19 cases in Africa continue to surge affecting many countries and a wide fragment of the world’s population are restricted to their homes, owing to nation-wide lockdowns and home-confinement strategies implemented in the majority of the COVID-19-hit countries. This unpredictable, fast-spreading infectious disease caused universal awareness, anxiety, panic, and distress among health providers and the general public.
Consequently, North Star Alliance moved promptly to overcome this foreseen challenge of the Coronavirus both on our clients and staff. To ensure we offered psycho-social support we hired a professional counselling psychologist who developed a psycho-social prevention and intervention model to support our efforts in ensuring that our clients’ and clinical staff’s mental health is well taken care of. We understood very well the worries among our clinical staff who are frontline in the fight against this pandemic which goes beyond them to even their families.
Partnership for good
North Star Alliance is never a lone ranger, we value partnership and alliances. In this regard, we have over the period strengthened our partnerships with ministries of health across Africa, stakeholders, government hospitals, and donors to ensure we continue to offer quality healthcare across the borders and along the transport corridors.
Through collaboration with the ministries of health (MOH), we managed to link suspected COVID-19 cases to MOH hospitals for further examination, treatment, and isolation.
Also, a number of our existing partners and foundation donors quickly stepped up and provided flexible contributions to the essential PPE in the form of masks, hand sanitiser, and gloves, surgical masks. This bolstered our community outreach, awareness, and prevention activities that are being delivered, in smaller groups and at a safe distance.
Incessant staff training
With the integration of infection prevention and control measures into our normal programming, there came a need to train and offer regular and reliable information to our staff on COVID-19. We organised various virtual trainings, prepared standard operating procedures, and developed information, communication, and education (IEC) materials on COVID-19 circulated among our staff.
Due to the ever-evolving information around the virus, we continued to research best practices, and access knowledge databases to ensure that our staff and clients have the right information, facts, and knowledge about COVID-19.
Facing pandemic has been a challenging period for us. However, with the commitment, dedication, and support of our staff and partners, we kept to our mission; providing quality healthcare to mobile workers and the communities they interact with.