World Health Day 2020

The novel COVID-19 pandemic has affected the world over in an unprecedented manner which this generation has never seen. With numbers rising everyday, the world as we know it has come to a halt. All of us have been called to play our part. Whether it be practicing physical distancing, continuing essential services or helping out a friend in need. Health workers in particular bear the brunt of the situation, by being the front-line soldiers protecting citizens and putting themselves at risk to fight this harmful virus. 

During the COVID-19 outbreak, like all hospitals around the world, hospitals in Sri Lanka are also facing shortages of medical supplies, specifically Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits. At a critical time such as this where a community effort was needed the most, UNDP was able to support the need of the hour through its ongoing Climate Change Adaptation Project (CCAP II) by teaming up with Green Coop, a collective of medical doctors and professionals from indigenous health, agriculture, and journalism sectors. Through this initiative, garment factories established through the project in Polonnaruwa area were approached, seeking a solution to address the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by exploring methods of local production. 

A local solution 

“Due to the sudden outbreak of COVID-19, hospitals weren’t prepared to handle the cost of more PPEs. At the normal market price, a PPE kit could range from around Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 10,000. Hence, a local solution was the most feasible option given the circumstances,” expressed Dr. Wedisinghe, who leads the Western Province Vector-Borne Disease and Epidemiological Disease Control Unit, who is also part of the Green Coop. He stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of the medical professionals who are facing this outbreak all across the country. 

Working together with Green Coop, a PPE sample from China was provided along with Cotton lint material which is used for face masks. The enterprises thereafter worked on matching the sample material with local equivalents, and upon approval from medical professionals, proceeded with the production process. Coordinating and organizing the sourcing and production of PPE kits was no easy task as curfew was imposed across the country. However,with the tireless efforts of Project Officers in Colombo and Field Officers in Polonnaruwa, the team was able to streamline the production process at the earliest. From working night and day to source materials, while arranging curfew passes for its transportation and ensuring the safety of factory workers, the team’s efforts paid off in ensuring a smooth production process.

Self-less community participation 

Dumila, an employee of the garment factory located in Mahaweli speaking on behalf of the 7 women who are running the PPE production says that they were more than happy to lend a hand during a national crisis. “Because of the curfew, we were also at home doing nothing. So the seven of us were very happy to be contributing in any way we could during this time of need than just staying home. We are also worried about our families, but if this meant we could contribute in some way, that makes it all worth it.” Seamstresses from the other garment factories in Medirigiriya and Lankapura who were also involved in this production echo Dumila’s self-less sentiment.

From their hard work, 500 Personal Protective Equipment for healthcare workers, 250 patient safety kits and 1,400 masks were donated to healthcare workers in the front-lines in Colombo and Polonnaruwa. Recently, these safety kits were handed over to the Governor of the Western Province Mr. Roshan Goonatileke and Provincial Director of Health Western Province Dr. Damayanthi Jayathilaka. Commending the efforts of the team, Dr. Wedisinghe further went onto say, “In addition to hospitals, these kits are especially a necessity for medical officers who at the community level are the first responders. So, these kits will be of immense use in hospitals like the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) and at the community prevention level.” 

Along with PPE kits, the project has also tapped into its smallholder farmers and home gardens that have been supported through the CCAP project which works on promoting climate resilience through climate-smart villages, community enterprises, and the provision of access to dependable markets in Walapane and Polonnaruwa. Due to the strenuous hours and the prevailing curfew, accessing groceries were proving to be difficult for those in the health sector. In response to this, fresh produce from these farmers have now been made available in packs and are being delivered to healthcare workers via the Green Coop network.

UNDP: Strengthening health systems around the world 

While the enterprises are tirelessly continuing its production of PPE kits as well as putting together packs of fresh produce for healthcare workers, UNDP Sri Lanka will continue to play an integrator role and aims to strengthen the health system in the face of COVID-19 by enabling, facilitating and assisting the procurement needs whilst leveraging the support of private sector entities that have already expressed interest to support in this process. UNDP’s global procurement offer also provides a platform to link communities with national governements and engage partners, donors, philanthropists and other stakeholders including civil society to contribute and finance critical health sector procurement needs.

As we celebrate World Health Day today, we are reminded of the immense service done by health care workers, whether it be nurses, midwives, technicians, paramedics, pharmacists, doctors, drivers, cleaners, administrators and many others -- who work, day and night to keep us safe. It is our duty as citizens of this country, to value this service and contribute in anyway we can to help their fight against this virus.

As the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres says,

“In these traumatic times, I say to all healthcare workers: we stand with you and we count on you. You make us proud; you inspire us. We are indebted to you. Thank you for the difference you are making, every day and everywhere.” 

 

The Climate Change Adapation Project is an ongoing project by the Ministry of Environment and WildLife Resources, the United Nations Development Programme and World Food Programme in Sri Lanka, with financial assistance from the Adaptation Fund.

 

 

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