The COVID-19 crisis is quickly changing the daily routines of countries across the globe, ranging from short-term quarantines to country-wide lockdowns. While Africa has been slow to see confirmed cases of patients with COVID-19, these numbers are increasing daily and the UN estimates that many more Africans will contract the virus in next few weeks. While anyone can be infected, COVID-19 is especially concerning for people with underlying conditions like diabetes mellitus, respiratory problems, and old age, as these groups are more prone to infection due to their compromised immunity.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the world, shortages of healthcare professionals – both inside and outside the hospital – are becoming common due to the massive demands being placed on the healthcare system.

Thanks to outreach and education campaigns running on social media, many people are learning of the need for social distancing to limit their risk of exposure. However, there still remains huge demand for services among vulnerable communities like street children and elderly individuals who can’t afford to maintain social distancing while they struggle to find food and a place to sleep. While prehospital care systems in Africa are not fully built, perhaps now is the time to increase support for them to help reduce mitigation.

Prehospital care systems can mobilize community volunteers as first responders in this time of crisis by delivering medications and food to at-risk and vulnerable patients in their homes and reducing their risk of contracting COVID-19. The Mwanza Community First Response Team, a first prehospital care system pioneered in Mwanza, Tanzania, five years ago, is a good example of this. Dispatched from a local call centre, the Mwanza community responders regularly responds to “routine” emergencies such as traumatic injuries and obstetric emergencies, providing basic first aid while helping to arrange for transport to hospital.

The prehospital responders, including Bodaboda drivers, university medical students, and community health workers are in a unique position to deliver other essential goods to high-risk and vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 outbreak, ultimately reducing the chances that basic needs go unmet and turn into acute medical emergencies that place further stress on the overtaxed health system. We are also using community responders to provide prevention education about COVID-19 to community members as well as sharing a toll-free number for them to call when they see people who present with unusual symptoms. By serving as the eyes and ears on the frontlines of the public health system, our community responders are building essential relationships across the community to ensure that vulnerable groups can reduce their risk exposure while other systems struggle to provide healthcare services to COVID-19 patients.

Supporting the participation of first responders and prehospital care systems, and equipping them proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is of paramount importance. By doing so, we will be able to properly educate all community groups in order to help them limit their exposure risk, while also ensuring that vulnerable groups can still access basic healthcare services and have other essential needs met during this pandemic.

Author

Dr.Marko Hingi

Founder

Tanzania Rural Health Movement

info@tanzaniaruralhealth.or.tz

+255 788 668 490