COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on life as we know it. It's hit vulnerable communities where we work hard.
The economic impact is causing an undernutrition crisis, setting progress back by a decade as caregivers can’t afford to feed their families. Bangladesh was also hit by catastrophic Cyclone Amphan in May 2020, causing widespread flooding and devastation and complicating COVID-19 response and prevention as people had to go to shelters, lost power and water, and lost property and livelihoods. 500,000 people lost their homes.
Food and nutrition insecurity has increased in the underserved areas where we work. 78% of people had reduced quantity/frequency of food intake due to lowered income. Almost everyone (95%) reported a reduction in income since the pandemic. This is according to research by KIT (Royal Tropical Institute of the Netherlands), based on phone interviews with 400 people in our programme area in early 2021. The poorest were the most affected. On the positive side there seems to be increased awareness of hygienic practices. Almost all respondents reported increased handwashing during the pandemic (96%) and improved access to soap and sanitary products.
Our COVID-19 response: a messaging campaign using our call centre.
In April 2020, we began an emergency COVID-19 response covering 1.2 million people in our programme area in southern coastal Bangladesh. Controlling the spread of COVID-19 is a community–level task, and hygiene (handwashing) is crucial. Nutrition too as malnourished people have a higher chance of more severe illness.
The campaign had four sets of messages: set A, stressed the importance of staying at home, maintaining social-distancing and handwashing. Sets B and C provided nutrition advice for pregnant and lactating women, as well as under five children. Set D shared information about pre- and postnatal check-ups, how to get accurate health information during the pandemic, and nutrition advice for pregnant and lactating women.
We helped ensure local entrepreneurs had freedom of movement despite the lockdown to safely sell much-needed hygiene products. Through them we distributed 35,000 bars of soap and detergent powder to the most vulnerable, and MaxiBasins (handwashing facilities) and soap to all public wells, so gathering water would remain safe. We used entrepreneurs so that they could then sell soap as a new hygiene product. The demand for MaxiBasins – affordable, easy to assemble in-home handwashing devices designed by Max Foundation – specifically increased during this time, with 20,500 units installed in homes and public spaces.
For more information click here for a CLEAR Initiative brief on our response.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus crisis continues to affect health, life and livelihoods for all of us. We have adapted our work to the COVID-19 context, ensuring safety for staff and all involved in our programmes, and following national guidelines per country.
We were able to quickly get our emergency response operational because we had invested in a good relationship with local authorities and community leaders. Our embeddedness in the communities we work has enabled us to effectively reach everyone.
We aim to continue to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic, and help communities recover: ensuring they have the resources needed to maintain healthy hygiene and eating habits, particularly to combat undernutrition in children under five. We believe, based on our data, that the Healthy Village approach will help communities bounce back.