In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, public life has shut down in much of the world. Rotary Clubs have also been impacted. Meetings, conferences, and activities are being cancelled – but the work continues. This has required innovation and finding new ways to help those in need. The article below summarises Rotary’s current engagement in response to the pandemic.
As people of action, Rotary members are engaged in their communities — gathering for projects and offering help to those in need. But in many areas, life is changing drastically. Health experts are urging people to maintain distance from others or even isolate themselves in order to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus. Fighting disease is one of Rotary’s main causes, so members already support efforts to promote proper hand washing techniques, teach people other ways to stay healthy, and supply training and vital medical equipment to health care providers. Now they’re helping health authorities communicate lifesaving information about COVID-19 and donating protective gear and other supplies to clinics and hospitals that are under strain because of the pandemic.
These are just some of the ways that members are supporting their communities right now:
- In Italy, one of the countries that has been affected most, clubs in District 2080 are raising funds to purchase ventilators and protective gear for overstretched hospitals. And when the worst of the outbreak was raging in China, the district’s clubs raised more than $21,000 for protective masks to prevent spread of the disease there.
- Clubs in District 2041, also in Italy, raised funds online to buy protective gear for health workers who will care for COVID-19 patients at a 400-bed hospital being built at Milan’s fairgrounds.
- In Hong Kong, Rotary clubs have raised funds, packed medical supplies, and visited public housing to distribute masks and sanitizers.
- Rotary clubs in Sri Lanka installed thermometers in airport bathrooms and produced posters to raise awareness about the coronavirus for schools across the country.
- The Rotary Club of Karachi Darakhshan, Sind, Pakistan, distributed thousands of masks to people in Karachi.
- Clubs in District 3700 (Korea) have donated $155,000 to the Red Cross.
- Rotary clubs in Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom state conducted a campaign to raise awareness about the threat of the virus. Members shared information about the illness and how to keep safe at two schools and distributed materials about using good hygiene to stay healthy.
- The Rotary club of Metro Bethesda, Maryland, USA, is contacting neighbors who live alone and are quarantined. Volunteers are asked to contact at least five of those people each week to ask how they are and if they need anything. Members are also leaving flowers on their doorsteps.
Pakistan: Few health programs have as much practice tracking virus or reaching out to communities as the Pakistan polio eradication program. This means the polio team is in a strong position to support the Government of Pakistan in COVID-19 preparedness and response. Currently, the polio team is providing assistance across the entire country, with a special focus on strengthening surveillance and awareness raising. Working side-by-side with the Government of Pakistan, within three weeks the team has managed to train over 280 surveillance officers in COVID-19 surveillance. It has also supported the development of a new data system that’s fully integrated with existing data management system for polio. All polio surveillance staff are now doubling up and supporting disease surveillance for COVID-19. Through cascade trainings, they have sensitized over 6,260 health professionals on COVID-19, alongside their polio duties, in light of the national emergency. These efforts will continue unabated as the virus continues to spread.
Adding to the capacity of the government and WHO Emergency team, the polio team are also engaged in COVID-19 contact tracing and improving testing in six reference laboratories. They have been trained to support and supplement the current efforts, preparing for a sudden surge in cases and responding to the increase in travelers that need to be traced as a result of the rise in cases. The regional reference laboratory for polio in Islamabad is also providing technical support to COVID-19 testing and has been evolving to cater to the increased demands.
As this is a new disease, polio staff are lending their skills as health risk communicators – providing accurate information and listening to people’s concerns. The government of Pakistan extended a national help line originally used for polio-related calls to now cater to the public’s need for information on COVID-19. The help line was quickly adapted by the polio communication team once the first COVID-19 case was announced. The polio communications team is using strategies routinely used to promote polio vaccines to disseminate information about the COVID-19 virus, including working with Facebook, to ensure accurate information sharing, and airing television adverts. As time goes on, the teams will train more and more people ensuring the provision of positive health practices messages that can curb the transmission of the virus.
Afghanistan: Currently, community volunteers who work for the polio program to report children with acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) are delivering messages on handwashing to reduce spread of COVID-19, in addition to polio. UNICEF is similarly using its Immunization Communication Network to disseminate information on personal hygiene. Field staff have taken the initiative of using their routine visits to health facilities, during which they check for children with AFP, to check for and report people who may have COVID-19. Meanwhile, program staff are building the capacity of health workers to respond to the novel coronavirus. To coordinate approaches, the WHO Afghanistan polio team has a designated focal point connecting with the wider COVID-19 operation led by the Government of Afghanistan. The polio eradication teams at regional and provincial levels are working closely with the Ministry of Public Health, non-governmental organizations delivering Afghanistan’s Basic Package of Health Services and other partners to enhance Afghanistan’s preparedness.
Nigeria: “In the field, when there is an emergency, WHO’s first call for support to the state governments is the polio personnel,” says Fiona Braka, WHO polio team lead in Nigeria. In Ogun and Lagos states, where two cases of COVID-19 have been detected, over 50 WHO polio program medical staff are working flat out to mitigate further spread, using lessons learnt from their years battling the poliovirus. Staff are engaged in integrated disease surveillance, contact tracing, and data collection and analysis. Public health experts working for the Stop Transmission of Polio program, supported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are using their skills to undertake COVID-19 case investigations. The WHO Field Offices -which are usually used for polio eradication coordination- are doubling up as coordination hubs for WHO teams supporting the COVID-19 response. The program is also lending phones, vehicles and administrative support to the COVID-19 effort. In states where no cases of COVID-19 have been reported, polio staff are supporting preparedness activities. At a local level, polio program infrastructure is being used to strengthen disease surveillance. Polio staff are working closely with government counterparts and facilitating capacity building on COVID-19 response protocols and are working to build awareness of the virus in the community. Specials efforts are being undertaken to train frontline workers as they are at high risk of contagion.
Beyond polio-endemic countries: Trained specialists in the STOP program, part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, are actively supporting preparations or response to COVID-19 in 13 countries worldwide. The WHO Regional Office for Africa’s Rapid Response Team, who usually respond to polio outbreaks, are aiding COVID-19 preparedness in countries including Angola, Cameroon and the Central African Republic. Meanwhile, polio staff in other offices are ready to lend support, or are already lending support, to colleagues working to mitigate and respond to the new virus. In our work to end polio, the program sees the devastating impact that communicable diseases have. With this in mind, we are fully committed to supporting national health systems by engaging our expertise and assets to help mitigate and contain the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside continuing concerted efforts to eradicate polio.
Using technology to address the crisis: Although clubs and districts are canceling or postponing their in-person meetings and events, they are still finding ways to keep up their fellowship, reimagine their service efforts and respond to the pandemic:
- The Rotary E-Club of Fenice del Tronto invited the public to its 11 March online meeting to raise awareness about the coronavirus. A virologist spoke about the virus, how it spreads, and how to keep safe.
- The Rotary Club of Singapore hosted a webinar in which an epidemiologist and an infectious disease expert addressed questions and concerns about the coronavirus and the pandemic.
- The Rotary Club of East Jefferson County, Washington, USA, used crowdsourcing to create an online listing of area grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurants that offer home delivery.
- Rotary members in Hereford, England, created a Facebook group for Rotary members and others to use to link people who need support with people or organizations that can help. More than 6,900 people have joined the group since it was started 14 March.
- Two days before its annual fundraiser, the Rotary Club of Schaumburg-Hoffman Estates, Illinois, USA, moved the event to Facebook. It auctioned more than 100 items and raised more than $100,000, about the same amount as in previous years. Food set to feed 350 people at the event was delivered to those in need.
- The Rotary E-Club of Silicon Valley, California, USA, held an online meeting for members of other clubs to share advice on using digital tools to remain connected. The club recorded the meeting so members could watch it later and share it with others.
- Rotary clubs in Zone 34 (Georgia and Florida, USA, and the Caribbean) created a guide to help members stay connected online. The Rotary E-Club of the Caribbean 7020 is helping clubs in the zone arrange online meetings. Read more.