UNDP staff mobilising the community at the epicentre of the August 2017 mudslides ©UNDP Sierra Leone.

“Our power to break the chain of transmission of the COVID-19 Pandemic in our communities lies in the hands of our community structures. And now, with support from WHO and UNDP, we are empowered to engage households and enhance community vigilante.” said Pa Alimamy Sesay (Kabempa), Section Chief of Pentagon Community in Western Urban Area.

The people of Kamayama, Kaningo and Pentagon Communities are still grappling from the effects of the devastating mudslide of August 14, 2017. They were most affected as they lived below the mount Sugar Loaf that collapsed and killed over a thousand people and displaces thousands more who lost friends, relatives and property in the disaster. At the time of the mudslide, Sierra Leone was just beginning to awaken from the Ebola health emergency.

In 2013, UNDP supported Sierra Leone Disaster Management Department (DMD) to establish District Disaster Management Committees (DDMCs) in all 14 districts then, in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Police, National Fire Force, Ministry of Health, Sierra Leone Red Cross and Office of the National Security (ONS). 355 personnel were trained. The DDMCs were established to play a key role in identifying, preventing and mitigating both natural and man-made disasters at the local level. The group are also charged with the responsibility of dispensing early communication of disaster risks and issues of national security to the national level. 

The DDMCs were very active during the Ebola emergency, during and after the mudslides and now UNDP in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with the Ministry of Health are helping them to support the national COVID-19 response through trainings to rapidly refresh and improve their knowledge of COVID-19 in order for them to heighten community awareness in combating the spread of the disease in Sierra Leone. Along with the trainings come infection, prevention and control supplies badly needed at district and chiefdom levels where health systems are in more dire states.  

The intervention prioritizes vulnerable communities including slums and isolates groups and the DDMCs comprise of community volunteers including local Chiefs, community health workers, Ward Committees, women and youths who as part of their activities will also engage in house-to-house visits, establishment of information and checkpoints in strategic locations such as community entrance and exit points, as well as community health centers, water points, markets and schools to promote COVID-19 prevention messages, provide facts against myths on the pandemic and watch out for any suspiciousness around the disease. 

So far, the intervention funded by UNDP has been rolled-out in 10 slum communities (Kaningo, Kamayama, Greybush, Dwarzack, Mabella, Culvert, Old Wharf, Kissy Brook, Susan’s Bay and Moa Wharf in Western Area) and 7 districts (Kambia, Port Loko, Pujehun, Moyamba, Kailahun, Bonthe and Falaba Districts) across the country with 250 District DDMC members and community volunteers trained and dispatched. These communities were severely hit by the Ebola in 2014-2015 and they are also prone to natural disasters such as flooding. There is need to build their resilience against further devastation by COVID-19 now and later.

Each of these communities has a population of around 1,000 people according to the Office of National Security. Therefore, this support is reaching approximately 10,000 people in addition to another 7000 in the seven district head quarter towns in which the trainings were conducted. 

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