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From our programs to our people: How we’re responding to COVID-19

Messaging workshop in Nigeria, 2019

The coronavirus pandemic is exposing longstanding health systems gaps and creating additional risks for people who were already vulnerable. Like people and organizations around the world, the Global Health Advocacy Incubator is adapting to a rapidly changing landscape to respond to current needs while maintaining our mission—to support civil society organizations advocating for public health policies that reduce death and disease.

Through it all, we are working to keep our team and our grantees safe and connected while we are physically separated.

We know that the entire public health community is confronting similar challenges, so we’ve decided to share some of our recent experiences. This series is divided into three parts, focusing on our programs, the ways we’re adapting, and our people.

Part One: Our Programs

Preventing Epidemics: To protect countries from threats like COVID-19, our Prevent Epidemics program builds support for investments in epidemic preparedness as part of the Resolve to Save Lives initiative. Now, to contain the novel coronavirus, our partners are helping to enlist commitments from local governments and disseminate accurate information to contain the virus.

In Senegal, our partner ONG 3D met with President Macky Sall to underscore the urgent need for further investments in coronavirus response and epidemic preparedness. In Nigeria, our team is working with government and civil society partners to advance emergency preparedness and response amid growing political and health concerns.

“We’re exploring ways to provide additional support to Nigeria’s lead epidemic preparedness agency,” Vineeta Gupta, MD, JD, LL.M, Director, Resolve Projects, Global Health Advocacy Incubator, said. “This may include awareness-raising and sharing of critical prevention messages with key stakeholders, including community, religious and political leaders.”

Strengthening Health Systems and Addressing Risk Factors: The current, urgent public health threat highlights the importance of ensuring that countries take responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their populations.

Our healthy food policy partners, through our Obesity Prevention program, have warned that preexisting chronic illnesses have been associated with increased complications from COVID-19. They are providing recommendations on eating and staying healthy during social isolation. In Mexico, groups we often work with are sharing information about the increased risk of complications and need to protect people living with diabetes and hypertension.

Fiscal policies for health, supported by our Obesity Prevention and tobacco control programs, are designed to reduce health burdens while generating revenue for health systems and health education. During times of stress, it’s easier to see why that’s important: in Seattle, it was reported that the city would “provide $800 each in supermarket vouchers to thousands of families during coronavirus crisis,” paid for from a sugary beverage tax.

Our parent organization is the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which is sharing the information that the coronavirus attacks the lungs, and behaviors that weaken the lungs put individuals at greater risk of complications from COVID-19. The harmful impact of smoking on the lungs is well-documented, and there is a growing body of evidence that e-cigarette use (vaping) can also harm lung health.

However, in February, as fears of the novel coronavirus rose in China, social media accounts associated with tobacco industry marketing spread the false claim that “smokers are less likely to be infected by COVID-19.” Our team worked with the China CDC and local organizations to correct the information in national media and social and flag the original post as a “rumor.”

Update, April 20: With children staying home due to COVID-19, child drowning deaths are up in Vietnam. The Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs has released national guidance to prevent child drowning during the crisis, in collaboration with the Global Health Advocacy Incubator, Hue Help and UNICEF Vietnam.

Later this week: How we’re adapting.