Tanzania – COVID-19 Emergency Response

The COVID-19 pandemic was reported to have reached Tanzania in March 2020. Despite doubts over the accuracy of test results, the government was quick to establish a taskforce that – together with the National Case Management and Infection Prevention Committee – set out to limit the spread. Now, with official numbers low and schools and churches reopened, life has returned to a level of normal. Find out how we’re supporting prevention and recovery efforts…  

Keeping COVID-19 out 

As is the case in most countries around the world, the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting the lives of the most vulnerable.  

Though cases remain low throughout the country, the threat of the virus is never far away. Poor and marginalised groups in Tanzania run the greatest risk of being able to adequately shield themselves from an outbreak. Many live in overcrowded settlements where access to clean water and sanitation facilities is limited, information is hard to come by and physical distancing is largely impossible.  

Women and girls who already face challenges in managing their sexual and reproductive health are now presented with a fresh danger. Poverty, pollution and poor sanitation in slums has allowed respiratory infections, such as asthma or tuberculosis, to spread quickly leaving elderly residents particularly susceptible during COVID-19. Families in these neighbourhoods also struggle to afford basic items such as soap, water and hygiene necessities.  

Our response  

Dorcas is making sure that the basic needs of vulnerable families are met and that they can access the public health information they need to stay healthy. As we operate separately from the government, we cannot have an impact on national response strategies. What we can do is contribute to the safe return of people to everyday life – and equip communities with the right tools to limit the spread of the virus.  

The extra mile for women and girls  

Dorcas is addressing the multi-layered impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls across Tanzania.  

Our MHM4Her programme has been adapted so that we can continue to provide menstrual hygiene support to vulnerable girls in the northeast of the country. Awareness-raising – via radio and public announcements – was already a key aspect of the programme. We have adapted our messaging to include information on handwashing, physical distancing and use of face masks – and to keep communities updated on the global COVID-19 situation.    

We are also providing hygiene kids to female-led response groups and teaching leaders within these groups to make their own masks for a small profit.  

Many women are not aware of the laws that exist to protect them. We are continuing to educate women on their fundamental rights as well as the new threats they face in this unprecedented environment. Our efforts during this crisis aim to ensure that every woman and girl gets the support and information they need.  

Protecting the family unit 

As part of our Future for Children programme we are also accelerating our support for children at home. The closure of schools has left children at heightened risk of domestic violence and child labour. Parents, who have seen their businesses closed down, are struggling to support their children and tensions remain high. Dorcas has developed a taskforce to equip families with knowledge on COVID-19 so that they can take the necessary precautions to shield themselves from the virus. We also make home visits on a weekly basis to check in on households and address any issues as well as assess children’s progress with our regular learning modules.  

Upholding public health  

In most areas of Tanzania there is limited access to public health information. Dorcas has played a vital role in bridging this gap by conducting awareness-raising activities in all four areas where we are active: Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Manyara and Tanga. By broadening public knowledge and understanding in line with official guidance from the Ministry of Health and World Health Organisation (WHO) we have been able to quell any doubts as well as help people take precautionary action. 

Dorcas has been going door-to-door with sanitation materials including detergents and soaps and has set up handwashing facilities in high-risk communities. We have also distributed food parcels among school children as well as to grannies at home in isolation.  

And our commitment to public health doesn’t end there. Inside two of Tanzania’s major prisons we have been able to resume project activities. A deep-clean has taken place at both premises and inmates are supplied with soap and detergents to meet rigorous hygiene protocols. Physically distanced visits from Dorcas care workers and church pastors have also recommenced.    

Safety nets for the elderly 

Dorcas believes that the responsibility of care for elderly members of the community should lie with the community itself. Across the Meru, Olokii and Rundugai districts we have adapted our activities to extend an additional safety net around vulnerable elderly during these times. To do this we have garnered the support of local people who have become guardians of the older generations. Access to food is a major concern for elderly – many of whom are afraid to leave their homes. As part of our community safety nets projects we have been delivering food parcels and hygiene items to vulnerable elderly and grannies – and offer counselling services to those who need that extra bit of support.  

Next steps 

Tanzania is the first country in East Africa to allow students to return to schools. Many social activities including wedding ceremonies and church gatherings have also recommenced. “Awareness-raising remains top of our list as the world enters the next phase of the pandemic”, says Lilian Michael Urassa, Country Director for our programme in Tanzania. “We are also helping children readjust to school; offering catch-up classes where needed.” 

“Workers in the informal sector and subsistence farmers are particularly at risk. Our response will focus on these groups in the months ahead.” – Lilian Michael Urassa, Country Director Dorcas Tanzania 

Lilian and her team will also be addressing the global economic shock – in terms of how that affects Tanzanian livelihoods. “Tourism accounts for 4.2 percent of Tanzania’s GDP – it generates the majority of our exports”, she explains. “On top of that, it keeps over 400,000 people in work. Workers in the informal sector and subsistence farmers are particularly at risk. Our attention will focus on these groups in the months ahead.” 

Dorcas programmes in Tanzania are primarily funded by Ukaid / Department for International Development and implemented directly with the support of five local partners. We will continue to work together to reach remote communities as the pandemic plays out. Stay up-to-date by following us on Facebook or Twitter. Learn more about our regular programme on our dedicated country page.    

10 November 2020