Landlocked in Central Asia, the Kyrgyz Republic has a population of 6.5 million people, two-thirds of whom live in rural areas. As in many parts of the world, the COVID-19 crisis has hit the Kyrgyz Republic hard, with over 83,000 cases and 1,394 deaths reported so far. As part of the World Bank’s support to the country in responding effectively to the pandemic, under the Sustainable Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Development Project, specific COVID-related communication activities at the national level were initiated, and ongoing activities at the local level were adapted to the COVID-19 context. The below Q&A with Susanna Smets, Aidai Bayalieva, Togzhan Alibekova – the World Bank team working on the project – sheds a light on these activities.
Q1: Give us an overview of the COVID-19 response activities under the Sustainable Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Development Project.
A: Our COVID-19 response has a few main components:
- Developing a coordinated National Communication Campaign about COVID-19: In partnership with the Republican Centre for Health Promotion and Mass Communication, the World Bank team contributed to the development of a joint action plan for the National Communication Campaign. The team brought together international organizations, donors and development partners to coordinate efforts and ensure the coherence of the campaign. The project team also supported the creation of a campaign to raise public awareness about COVID-19 and encourage preventive behaviors through a variety of media in both Kyrgyz and Russian languages.
- Engaging with communities and building local capacity: The project team supported community-based initiatives through local capacity building. They trained existing Village Health Committees and community health workers on COVID-19, associated preventive measures and case management. School teachers also received training on handwashing with soap and were encouraged to use interactive activities such as handwashing demonstrations and videos to help raise awareness through social media.
- Improving access to safe and clean water and improved sanitation in communities, using the rural Water Supply and Sanitation monitoring system: The rehabilitation of water supply systems and installation of handwashing and sanitation facilities in schools has been a key component of the project. Since the pandemic, the team has intensified the collection of WASH data for health centers and schools through the existing rural Water Supply and Sanitation monitoring system. This system aims to inform the Government and development partners about existing needs, resources prioritization and the implementation of WASH activities.
Video clip ‘Колду кантип туура жуу керек’ promoting handwashing with soap, broadcasted 3 to 4 times a day in July-August on a local TV channel, Kyrgyz Republic
Q2: Tell us about the process to design this response program.
A: At the start of the pandemic, the World Bank team reached out to the Kyrgyz Ministry of Health and the Republican Centre for Health Promotion and Mass Communication and offered to help develop the National Communication Campaign and community engagement strategy.
Based on preliminary analysis and WHO recommendations, the project team set a few key objectives for communication activities in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and local and international stakeholders. The team developed a common communication action plan describing specific activity, target audience, timelines, expenditure categories, and estimated budget. The plan was approved by the Ministry of Health on April 14, 2020.Messages and different communication materials, including written scripts and videos, were then created by the project team, reviewed by a working group of experts and approved by the Ministry of Health.
The team also adjusted the project’s ongoing WASH activities to integrate COVID-19 messaging and conducted additional training – switching to remote platforms when needed - to cascade information and guidance to local governments, project staff, teachers, Village Health Committees
Further outreach activities are planned to target local governments, teachers, volunteers, and workers in the services sector (drivers, waiters, hairdressers, social workers) making use of the campaign tools.
‘Glow germ’ demonstration to sensitise about the importance of handwashing with soap, Ak-Bulak Village School, Issyk-Kul region, Kyrgyz Republic
Q3: Give us an example of how you’ve overcome challenges in implementing this program.
A: Coordination was a challenge when COVID-19 surfaced. Thanks to the project team’s capacity to efficiently engage with key Ministries, the lead agency for health communication and other development partners a coherent plan and set of activities could be developed rapidly. Lack of awareness about COVID-19 preventive measures among healthcare workers was a big challenge at the start of the pandemic. But in a short period of time, the project team developed a set of concise technical guidance on COVID-19 prevention and the Ministry of Health’s Republican Centre for Health Promotion and Mass Communication is disseminating those to all healthcare workers and providing training to ensure they are understood.
Video on ‘Reducing Social Stigma during COVID-19’ subtitled in English, National Communication Campaign, Kyrgyz Republic
Q4: Any feedback you’ve received from the communities?
A: We’ve been engaging with communities mainly through Village Health Committees and local governments and institutions, including schools and healthcare facilities. In many areas , Village Health Committees, in partnership with local governments, have set up volunteer centers where people can seek information about COVID-19, ask questions, and provide feedback and comments. Anecdotal feedback has been mainly positive, especially on availability of clear materials to inform their community about COVID-19 and preventive behaviors.
We’ve also received positive feedback from several teachers and local governments, specifically on COVID-related WASH programs and training at schools. They told us that improvements of WASH facilities in schools have had a positive impact on strengthening handwashing and hygiene behaviors at school and at home. Girls and children with disabilities have also benefited due to the inclusive design of these facilities.
Q5: Any takeaways and lessons to share with others who are also working on COVID-19 response?
A: As part of this collaboration, agreeing on a common COVID-19 communication action plan has been important for the agency to prioritize activities, mobilize resources from different partners and projects, and avoid duplication of efforts. For example, the World Bank-funded Health Emergency response project is now providing further support to the Republican Centre for Health Promotion and Mass Communication on digital communication and on-line citizen engagement to help bring the pandemic under control.
At the implementation level, encouraging and supporting community engagement initiatives through trained Village Health Committees has proved successful in disseminating COVID-19 prevention messages and in fostering local adaptation and resilience to the pandemic. Throughout the country, there are more than 1,600 Village Health Committees, long-established as a trusted medium of communication. Relying on these existing local networks has been crucial in helping reach communities more rapidly and effectively.
Video-tutorial on Guidance for persons interacting with the population during COVID-19, intended for volunteers, local authorities and employees, subtitled in English, Krygyz Republic