In 2020, a year like no other, Relief International provided vital services to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to treat those affected by it, in fragile settings around the world. In excerpts taken from our Annual Report, learn more about how Relief International was able to respond to the pandemic in diverse and different locations.
Many families were still struggling to rebuild their lives following the Taal Volcano eruption in January 2020, which damaged the homes and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people. Then COVID-19 broke out across the Philippines in March. At the same time, Relief International’s teams were responding to a Polio outbreak, the first to be recorded in the country in nearly 20 years. Comprising more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines are home to many communities, speaking over 120 languages in settings ranging from large cities to locations only accessible by canoe.
Our teams had to work fast to protect families against both Polio and COVID outbreaks. In response to the immediate need for protective equipment, we developed a new project to empower local women to produce PPE such as gowns and masks, providing them with much needed income and an important role in protecting their communities. We also provided tens of thousands of families with critical hygiene kits containing essential personal items such as soap and washing powder.
We quickly realized that the most vital intervention required was getting information to communities across all the islands. Our messaging, which we developed in consultation with the Department of Health of the Philippines, focused on how to protect against both Polio and COVID-19 and how to recognize symptoms. In order to reach as many people as possible, we launched a series of recorded campaigns, using Bluetooth speakers embedded with sound clips of the key messages. These speakers were attached to vehicles such as tricycles, trucks, cars, bicycles, and jeeps that roamed around communities continuously playing the reminders. This approach alone reached more than three million people in areas that couldn’t be reached by social media, text blasts, and radios. “Our social mobilizers went out every day, riding for hours with the message blaring from their speakers,” says Bing Constantino, an RI Program Manager in the Philippines. “They were determined to help protect as many people as possible from the outbreaks of both polio and COVID-19.”
In addition, we partnered with over 20 radio stations to play these key messages, spread the word on social media, and distributed flyers with key information about how to protect against both viruses. Influencers such as community leaders, municipal chief executives, tribe leaders of indigenous groups, and women were also briefed and trained to become ambassadors of hygiene and health in their communities. This further strengthened our information and education campaigns by mobilizing people who were respected in their communities.
With the combined effort of the Ministry of Health, local community members and other partners, we were able to achieve a rapid and wide-reaching response. The enormity and innovation of Relief International’s efforts meant we were able to disseminate Polio & COVID-19 key messages to more than 10 million people across the Philippines.