Communities in Balochistan determined to combat Covid-19

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QUETTA (By Rafiullah Mandokhail) It’s the first time since the Second World War that the world is under attack; however, this time the countries are not fighting with each other but have united to fight a singular enemy, no other than COVID-19 that has wreaked havoc across the globe.

Originating in China, the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has shaken the entire world due to its highly contagious nature, spread at a global level and a staggering number of fatalities. Pakistan, unfortunately, has also been affected by this pandemic; this is mainly caused by the Pakistanis entering the country from abroad, including Italy, Spain, Iran. Pilgrims returning from Iran entered the country via Taftan in Balochistan. Taftan is the entry point where people are being quarantined before leaving for their respective hometowns, cities and provinces. The Government of Balochistan together with the help of Federal Government is taking serious steps to ensure the wellbeing of the people being quarantined at these centers and to stop the spread of this pandemic in the province.

However, due to poor and neglected health infrastructure, the challenges this contagion poses are overwhelming for an already under-developed province like Balochistan. As of 20th th March 2020, the total number of Coronavirus cases in Balochistan are 432 with a total tally of 8310 in the country. The government is continuously advising the people to practice social distancing and adopt all the recommended hygiene measures to curb the spread of Coronavirus. But in a culturally well knitted society like Balochistan, it’s hard to convince the communities of the consequences of non-compliance to precautionary measures.

While the role of organised and well-informed communities to behave responsibly and support the government’s initiatives to combat this emergency in the province becomes paramount. For Balochistan, the fact that nine districts of Balochistan have already been covered under  European Union supported Balochistan Rural Development and Community Empowerment (BRACE) Programme for different rural development and community empowerment  activities through social  organization t is glad tidings, indeed.

BRACE Programme is a five-year community-led development programme that is being implemented in close collaboration with the Government of Balochistan in nine districts. Thus far, 163,892 households have been organised under the BRACE Programme in to 15,683 Community Organizations (CO), 3,088 Village Organizations (VO) and 137 Local Support Organizations (LSO) at the Union Council level in nine districts of Balochistan namely Pishin, Killa Abdullah, Loralai, Dukki, Zhob, Khuzdar, Jhal Magsi, Washuk and Kech. These community institutions are ready to the Government initiatives to combat Coronavirus. Soon after the news of the pandemic outbreak of corona virus in Iran was reported in media, the organised communities in these nine districts of Balochistan started taking measures to combat the Coronavirus.

The representatives of the Community Institutions formed under the European Union funded BRACE Programme urgently conducted community meetings to develop an outline for an awareness raising campaign against the corona virus to inform and orient the communities on the severity of this approaching calamity and how the communities could play their role in combating it at village level. But soon after learning the influx of reported cases in Pakistan and the raising tally in Balochistan, the communities, with the support of the BRACE teams, have gone a step further to support the Government of Balochistan in combating COVID-19 emergency in the province.

The Local Support Organizations (LSOs) urgently organised community meetings in which community awareness sessions were held to inform the people on how to maintain their social/physical distancing and undertake hygiene at household and community level, and to urgently report to the local authorities if anyone around them is found with manifestation of symptoms of coronavirus. In these awareness sessions, the communities have been informed that the only known cure of COVID-19 is prevention; exercising safety precautions and practicing social distance is the need of the hour. Community members are being oriented by trained Community Resource Persons (CRPs) on COVID-19 awareness and activities.

So far, 901 Community Resource Persons (CRPs) have been oriented on COVID-19 including 612 males and 289 females in 10 districts; Duki, Jhal Magsi, Kharan, Khuzdar, Killa Abdullah, Kohlu, Loralai, Pishin, Washuk and Zhob. CRPs have been trained through designed IEC materials that illustrate the symptoms of the corona infections, and the adoption of hygienic practices such as hand washing with soap, wearing a mask, sneezing and coughing not openly and discarding the utilized tissue papers.

Noor Alam Magsi is a resident of district Jhal Magsi which lies on the provincial border of Balochistan-Sindh. Sindh has seen an exponential increase in the number of reported cases. Jhal Magsi shares its border with district Qambar Shadadkot in Sindh, which is next to Sukkur. Noor Alam has been attending various community sessions as a member of the Village Organization.

However, he felt his experience of attending this particular community session was different from others. Sharing his experience after attending the awareness session on corona virus, Noor Alam looked at the sky and said, “I did not have as much awareness on the disease and was not very serious towards adopting protective measures previously.

Recently, the Balochistan Rural Support Programme (BRSP) has also ensured the provision of hand washing facilities at the quarantine centre at Taftan border. The initiative has contributed to improved health and hygiene conditions at the quarantine centre. Furthermore, hand washing facilities have been established in 117 public places along with the distribution of 2,813 soaps in 29 UCs/Wards of 11 districts; Duki, Jhal Magsi, Killa Abdullah, Kohlu, Loralai, Naseerabad, Quetta, Pishin, Sibi, Sohbat Pur and Zhob.

The civil and law enforcement authorities have appreciated the role of the European Union supported organised communities in Balochistan in raising awareness at the local level in the fight against Coronavirus. Let us all hope, pray and play our collective role to win this race against Coronavirus.

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