CONAKRY – Guinea experienced its first imported case of COVID 19 on March 12, 2020 and total cases number 4,372 as of this writing. Guinea’s first case was declared in the midst of political unrest due to a legislative election and a referendum ballot for the adoption of a new Constitution. Both the election itself and the results are contested by the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC) which brings together the opposition and a large segment of civil society. Despite opposition, the double ballot took place on March 22, 2020. The new Constitution was enacted by the President of the Republic on April 7, 2020 while the new National Assembly held its first inaugural session on April 21, 2020.
It is in this political context that COVID 19 continues to spread in Guinea, the epicenter of which is Conakry. Faced with the rise in cases of COVID 19 contamination, on March 26, 2020, the President of the Republic declared a state of emergency with a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. In the same vein, on April 10, 2020, the President of the Republic announced the creation of the Scientific Response Council against COVID-19 in Guinea. The government has also made it mandatory to wear masks, and has created an Economic Response Plan with three components including Health, Social, and Private Sector Support.
Despite the political turmoil and uncertainty, it was critical for Tostan Guinea to act early and draft a response plan to COVID 19 that complements the contingency plan of Tostan International, which sets the following objectives:
– Reduce the risk of contagion of staff, partners and beneficiaries;
– Ensure the continuity of essential organizational activities;
– Ensure well-being for staff and their families;
– Reduce the spread of the disease by making local populations aware of hygienic and sanitary practices useful against the risk of contagion.
For the period of April to June 2020, our plan suspends programmatic activities and institutes teleworking where possible for all staff. Tostan Guinea will also provide partner communities with supplies where available, having already distributed 40 hygienic hand-washing kits. We have also supplied a Faranah-region civil society platform with hygiene kits. Further, we have started producing radio broadcasts to raise awareness on COVID-19 in communities. We broadcast on four rural radio stations in seven national languages with a geography covering an estimated 1,926,357 listeners. The radio programs are complemented by brochures in French and national languages that outline information on COVID-19, its transmission, and prevention, as well as considerations of how to prevent the spread of the virus using a religious perspective. These printed materials are to be used by facilitators, supervisors, Community Management Committee members and their communities, local and national authorities, and health professionals within their networks to empower communities to enact their own prevention measures. We have also operationalized social media platforms to share information and check in on communities, using WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger especially to communicate.
These efforts are critical, as they fill gaps in State measures and services provided, as well as establish community agency. And they have already been successful – communities across the Faranah region have taken action to protect the their own physical health and well-being and that of their neighbors. Working directly with local authorities during this crisis will reinforce the bonds that have already been established at the community level, and will set a critical foundation for systems change in which communities take ownership of local power structures. The reverberations of this collaboration and of the leadership exhibited in communities will positively impact the Strengthening Democracy for Civic Engagement trainings that will create an environment for effective dialogue and citizen participation in decision-making, planning, transparency, and accountability when regular programming is resumed.
Author: Mouctar Oulare, Tostan National Coordinator in Guinea