Field activities resume after end of COVID-19 lockdown
After field activities in Bolikhamxay and Khammouane Provinces had been paused due to the country-wide COVID-19 lockdown, May saw field officers returning to their open air duty stations. Staff in both the TC TB project and the Food and Nutrition Security project have resumed their field activities under COVID-19 safety measures. In order to keep communities and staff safe, all field officers have been equipped with face masks and hand sanitiser, and in the case of the TB project, face shields. All staff have been instructed in how to implement social distancing and good hygiene practices.
Regarding the Food and Nutrition Security project, the lockdown period coincided with the season of preparing land for planting and crop production. In accordance with these seasonal tasks, the project had intended to train farmers in such preparatory activities and in the establishment of SRI demonstration fields. These plans, as well as the continuation of irrigation system instalments and distribution of animals, were affected by the lockdown. Nevertheless, the 20 Farming Instructors and 4 Community Development Facilitators managed to support their Farmers’ Clubs remotely through phone calls and instant messenger services. They were also able to inform target villages about COVID-19 prevention measures. This process was aided by the Farmers’ Clubs’ structure, preparing them for autonomy after project completion: While a Farmers’ Club consists of around 50 members, they are divided into smaller core groups of around 10 people. Each core group is led by a Step Up Farmer who, at the beginning of the project, received training on leadership and management, in conjunction with Farmers’ Clubs Committees and village authorities. These community leaders were now the ones who were able to drive forward project activities on the ground, even without project staff being present in person. Now that COVID-19 restrictions have been eased, the team reviewed their work plans and discussed them with our partners at the Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office (PAFO). Project staff are confident to be able to continue with activities without too much setback due to the lockdown period.
TC TB project staff received permission to resume activities from the Province Health Office (PHO) immediately after the lockdown restrictions were lifted. As TB patients are particularly vulnerable to infections, especially infections which affect the lungs as COVID-19 does, HPP Laos and the National TB Program have a particular responsibility to continue providing TB services to affected populations. During lockdown, TB staff remained in contact with TB patients and their families through phone and messenger services. As with Farmers’ Clubs, another HPP approach came in handy for this purpose: Whenever a new TB patient is found, the team establish a TRIO with the patient and two family members or friends. TRIOs support the patient in taking their medication regularly, and they receive training in nutrition and home gardening to strengthen the patient’s overall health. While staff were unable to visit TB-affected households in person, they knew that patients were not alone, they could rely on their TRIOs. Through these communications channels, the project team also shared information on COVID-19 prevention with target communities. Now, active case finding and treatment adherence support activities have recommenced. The project team, being experienced in working in TB, are already well-versed in social distancing and good hygiene practices, and are eager to get back out and support communities in the fight against TB.