ACTED Ukraine, as a leading humanitarian organization globally and in Ukraine, has taken and is continuing to take concrete steps to respond to the threat posed by the global Covid-19 pandemic: rapid and decisive action is essential to save lives, protect communities in conflict-affected areas in Eastern Ukraine and stem person-to-person transmission of the disease. Thus ACTED works directly with local authorities to help them prepare for and react to Covid-19, and has re-imagined its way to implement cash programming in order to reduce risks posed to beneficiaries and staff.
This is made possible thanks to ACTED staff, who work every day, on and off the field, to carry out ACTED’s mission: saving lives and supporting people to meet their needs in hard-to-reach areas.
ACTED’s Communications team reached out to a few of them to better understand how their daily work has changed in the face of Covid-19 – we talked to:
How has your typical workday changed since the coronavirus outbreak in Ukraine?
Benoit: Since the outbreak, the typical workday has changed a lot for me. Indeed, like my colleagues, I am working from home following procedures put in place by ACTED in Ukraine to limit virus spread, and may continue for a while as the infection rate continues to increase in the country. This limits our capacities to directly interact with each other, but – like the rest of the world – we can and do virtually meet daily using existing technology. I am now unable to meet local authorities directly, as the number of people allowed to attend meetings has drastically fallen to ensure that risks of contamination are minimal. Since they are our main partner in disaster risk reduction activities, we are looking for ways to keep engaging with them so it does not severely impact the quality of our work.
Yulia: We were faced with new challenges, such as the inability to conduct face-to-face interviews, focus groups, training, and visits to the office. But at the same time, we still had tasks and the key responsibility to collect data to inform the humanitarian response and provide partners with an analysis of the situation. We had to be flexible and creative and to adapt our activities very quickly to new working conditions. A new system of internal communication and planning of “field” activities was built, each of us had to organize our working day in a new way, learn new skills and master information through online trainings and find a balance between work and personal life due to home-based work. This required developing new skills, building trust and effective communication by telephone, finding the necessary information and contacts on the Internet, etc. Even after quarantine, these new skills will be very helpful and help us ensure that our activities do not expose people to risk of coronavirus as it is unlikely to disappear completely in the next few months.
What impact do you think this second crisis will have on the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ukraine?
Olga: It is difficult even to imagine which bad impact this lethal virus will have on the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ukraine, which is already ravaged by six years of armed conflict, a weakened health system, and a vulnerable population. Everybody knows that access to adequate health services and emergency medical care in conflict-affected Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, is incredibly challenging for vulnerable people of all ages. This is because of the high costs of medicines and travel, lack of specialized medical personnel, and limited availability of public transport, among other conflict and even non conflict-related problems. In rural areas along the ‘contact line,’ there is limited access to first aid points (FAPs) due to the shutdown of public transportation as part of Covid-related measures – and ambulance services are very limited in eastern Ukraine. It is estimated that ambulances do not serve 20% of rural settlements along the ‘contact line’. The health situation was a problem before Covid-19, and this is only going to get worse. Plus, it means people who need access to healthcare because of Covid may not get it. General access to healthcare, again, will be curtailed.
Oleksandra: The prolonged isolation almost certainly will have a serious humanitarian impact. Even before the pandemic, eastern Ukraine had the largest proportion of elderly in a single country affected by a conflict in the world: they are among categories most at-risk of Covid-19. Many of them live only on food they have grown themselves: isolation will make what was already a bad situation worse, and may cause serious deterioration of food security. In addition, in many settlements close to the contact line, there are no pharmacies and hospitals; a critical lack of medical staff, lack of knowledge of treatment procedures, lack of equipment for personal protection, reanimation and diagnostic equipment that mean that they won’t be able to cope with a surge of patients. Numbers of confirmed cases are still low in Donetsk and Luhansk, but everyone expects it to increase rapidly soon. Unfortunately, coronavirus will only worsen the situation in Eastern Ukraine.
What is your team doing to protect themselves and the most vulnerable?
Benoit: Internally, an important range of measures have been taken to limit the impact of the disease. Only necessary staff go to the office. In case meetings in the field cannot be held online, everybody is equipped with appropriate masks, sanitizers and gloves. Also, we are limiting physical interaction as much as possible. As part of the Covid-19 response, we are supporting the most vulnerable by distributing masks produced locally, and ensuring that vital awareness and prevention messages are reaching them. For example, with the regional administration in Donetsk, we set up a hotline that people can call to get information.
Olga: Most of the team works from home to avoid exposure. However, we are humanitarians: we can and need to respond to the crisis. Our program staff continues to implement life-saving and preserving activities, and are now also implementing new Covid-19 oriented activities to support the most vulnerable population in eastern Ukraine. The ACTED Ukraine Covid-19 Crisis Management Cell developed Standard Operating Procedures for staff which include the protective and preventive rules and measures emitted by the Ministry of Health of Ukraine and WHO. We’ve also set up health follow-up tools, and we’re providing staff with all needed hygiene and protective equipment. Every ACTED staff member is regularly updated on the rules and follows them in their work and personal life. To protect the most vulnerable people, the team also organized a fast informative campaign on Covid-19 protection measures: in 1 month, we called more than 10,000 people.
What is your message to the people in the world as this crisis continues?
Benoit: Stay home. Even if you are in country where quarantine is ending, or hasn’t been put in place, try to limit your movements as much as possible. Wear a mask when going out. Respect social distancing. Protecting yourself starts with protecting the others, especially the most vulnerable among us.
Yulia: I think that this time has been given to us to reassess our values and we must cultivate social responsibility and respect the need for isolation measures, as our health and our lives, as well as the health and lives of others, depend on this. I wish everyone to support themselves with good thoughts and remain in joyful anticipation, and not in a dejected expectation, of the end of the need for isolation.
Oleksandra: Please stay at home until there is a vaccine for coronavirus. Stay at home while doctors save the lives of people who have the virus, do not add work to them. Help those at risk. This difficult time will end soon!
Olga: Let’s be supportive of each other and let’s be helpful for those who are more vulnerable than us. And the biggest thanks to all medical staff working at risk every minute.
As of May 14, more than 16 000 cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Ukraine, and 456 deaths. Even as the government is starting to walk back some of the quarantine measures to contain virus spread, the expectation is that the numbers will keep increasing by the day and the crisis is far from over.
To inimize the negative impact of Covid-19 on people’s lives, the team is working every day to procure and provide material support to local authorities in conflict-affected territories in Eastern Ukraine.
ACTED has provided:
ACTED is disseminating informational materials on how to protect oneself and others, and continues to operate the Donetsk oblast public information hotline.
ACTED and sister organization IMPACT’s joint REACH Initiative conducted in April a Rapid Health Facilities Assessment in Eastern Ukraine, to inform the humanitarian information and improve coordination in these difficult times so that help can reach those most in need. ACTED is also leading an extraordinary Rapid Round of Joint Market Monitoring to identify impact of Covid-19 on local markets, looking access to and availability of basic items, including food, hygiene and medication. This will help ensure that humanitarian organizations, including ACTED, are providing the help that is most needed to save and preserve lives.