Feature story

Local skills and knowledge help Senegalese community-led organizations deliver

18 June 2020

Face masks, sanitizers and soap. Food packages and money to pay the rent. Information about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from the virus—the list goes on.

The necessities of life during the COVID-19 pandemic can be hard to come by, but communities are organizing and delivering services and much needed commodities to the people that need them the most. And communities with experience of responding to other epidemics are turning their lessons learned to COVID-19. 

“Organizations led by and for people living with HIV and key populations are now spearheading urgently needed programmes to combat COVID-19 and secure the health and well-being of their communities,” said Demba Kone, the UNAIDS Country Director for Senegal.

Like in many other countries around the world, face masks and other personal protective equipment are in short supply in Senegal. However, the Enda Santé nongovernmental organization had a quick and efficient solution—the many local tailors and dressmakers, who are highly skilled and had a ready access to supplies of fabric. Responding to the call of “come work with us”, the tailors and dressmakers produced thousands of high-quality masks in a record time, and at a very low cost. And the local production meant that the money stayed in the local economy, which had been badly affected by the pandemic.

Enda Santé has also begun negotiating with donors that fund HIV programmes. Funds that had been allocated to HIV-related activities that could not be carried out in the current context have been re-allocated to support COVID-19-related activities in the most-affected communities.

Focusing the right resources at the right place is crucial when responding to outbreaks that are travelling fast through communities. Enda Santé therefore went to work to identify the communities that were the most vulnerable and in the greatest need.

Drawing on statistics generated by the government, as well as their own knowledge about the demography and availability and accessibility of health services, Enda Santé looked at poverty levels among communities, the neighbourhoods where overcrowding was the worst and where people had difficulty in accessing health care. It was clear that the people who were the most vulnerable to HIV were also now very vulnerable to COVID-19.

Enda Santé focused on those communities, distributing prevention materials and mobilizing young and female leaders from the community, training them to go door to door explaining how people could protect themselves, how to identify cases and how to get people into treatment centres.

It was obvious that many of the people affected by HIV that Enda Santé worked closely with—people living with HIV, sex workers, people who inject drugs and young women and adolescent girls—had lost their incomes because of the lockdown and were now struggling with the triple impact of HIV, COVID-19 and poverty. In response, Enda Santé organized the delivery of food and cash transfers.

Daouda Diouf, the Executive Director of Enda Santé, reflected on the process. “We had already learned how to do all of this work in the context of HIV, so we were transferring the skills we learned in responding to HIV for 25 years, and we moved to apply them to COVID-19. The speed of action, engaging community members and putting them at the centre of the work, the door-to-door approach, pre-empting the risk of transmission, delivering prevention packages, and so on. We were able to act very quickly.”