As the Covid-19 pandemic challenges daily life everywhere in the world, we reached out to our global partners to check in and hear how their work and life is affected by this crisis. Throughout the series, we will publish accounts from our partners both in Africa as well as Europe and the United States. At the end of each blog post, you’ll find local initiatives to support.
Today we hear from team members Joan and Fatou about the current situation in Senegal. Joan, based in Dakar, and Fatoumata, currently living with her family in Thiès, explain how daily life is affected and share their perceptions with us.
“I am regularly on the phone with colleagues and partners to dream about post-COVID-19-life”
Joan and Fatoumata are working with Little Sun in Senegal — one of the first African countries where Little Sun began distributing solar lamps in 2014, enabling us to create a country specific program to boost entrepreneurship and empower women in the energy sector.
Senegal is one of the least impacted countries in Africa
“Though the pandemic is spreading across Africa and has not reached its peak here yet, everything has slowed down in Senegal. At the beginning of the pandemic it was hard for everyone because we did not know much about this new virus and it was challenging to convince people to adapt to the recommended safety measures, such as regular hand washing and avoid touching their faces. The number of infected patients is increasing every day but Senegalese residents have begun to show greater adherence to public health recommendations as awareness about the seriousness of the pandemic rose.
As of today, there are over 800 confirmed cases. Authorities report on the number of diagnosed, treated, and recovered people on a daily basis, and keep track of the community transmissions through travel and contact tracing. To date, transmission seems to be tied to travelers from France, Italy, Spain as well as Senegalese nationals returning home for religious celebrations.
With a low death toll, Senegal is one of the least impacted countries in Africa. However, it is necessary to continue efforts to educate the population, both on- and offline, to keep the contamination rate low, avoid overcrowding health facilities and make safety measures a habit.
Curfew and mask protection
On 23 March, Macky Sall, the president of Senegal, declared a state of emergency. There is now a curfew from 8 pm until 6 am, travel to other regions is prohibited, traffic is limited, and the number of people using public transports has been curtailed. Some supermarkets and pharmacies organize the flow of customers to limit the contact between people. Authorities have forbidden all gatherings and there are regular patrols of public spaces where people gathered to do sports.
Normally, we are constantly on the road for Little Sun meeting with partners. The current situation constrains promotional activities and training. We had been hoping to launch new products and train our network of entrepreneurs, but the activities we can do safely are limited since public transportation must be avoided to limit contamination and many people do not have personal vehicles.
The best we can do is to stay home and try to limit the spread of the virus, as well as try to raise awareness about how to be safe. In Thiès, the mayor pledged to take care of the most vulnerable, by providing a quick response to the threat to public health. The town authorities and the mayor are providing food supplies, as well as hygiene products so that the people can wash their hands regularly.
The entrepreneurs we have trained started to follow up on customers over the phone, but it is hard to reach the last mile customers who live in rural areas without a reliable network.”
Why connectedness matters
Joan has family members in France and Gabon. He explains: “Everybody is confined right now. They are all doing well and this is reassuring, but I am concerned for some of my family members who are older and more vulnerable. My days are punctuated with tea breaks, and I am regularly on the phone with colleagues and partners to dream about post-COVID-19-life. We share information and initiatives related to COVID-19 while limiting going out. This is crucial: after maintaining a high vigilance level, we tend to observe the discipline getting lax. This is why I think it is vital to stand shoulder to shoulder.”
A gleam of hope: A $1 test to be developed
As the World Health Organisation’s motto is to test in order to limit the spread of COVID-19, scientists are putting many efforts into developing effective, reliable, and quick diagnostic tests for the populations. In Senegal, the Pasteur Institute in Dakar has partnered up with a UK company and the English government to produce a diagnostic test that would release the result in ten minutes for a dollar. The tests are still to be validated and should be available in June, with a production capacity of 8 million units per year. Why does it matter? The tests do not need electricity to be used. As around 88% of the population in urban areas has access to electricity according to the World Bank, the percentage only reaches 35% in remote rural areas.
Local initiatives to raise awareness for preventive measures and offer quick response
As self-protective measures and measures to safeguard other’s health are essential, everyone has a role to play in a quick response to slow down the pandemic. From soap distribution to manufacturing masks, every initiative counts.
From a technology perspective, Senegal already offers some solutions to help diagnose COVID-19 cases. Doctor Covid, an initiative from the Health Ministry, allows the Senegalese population to access reliable information about the new Coronavirus via WhatsApp. Software and applications intended for remote monitoring of patients as well as online case reporting are also used as tools to manage the pandemic.
On 20 April, the Senegalese government made it obligatory for everyone to wear masks, at least until beginning of May to slow down the propagation of the new coronavirus. As FFP2 masks (minimum of 94% filtration percentage) are expensive, some initiatives rose to make them more affordable. Seamstresses, NGOs, local market sellers: everyone started putting effort into producing and distributing masks in Senegal. Our friend Nabou Jackson, based in Dakar, and one of our favorite clothing designers in the city, also adapted her business to create these wax masks to be part of the global response.
Our partners ApiAfrique, usually producing and selling bio and reusable hygiene items, also shifted their efforts towards manufacturing cotton masks. They even shared video tutorials in Wolof to teach how to sew your own mask.
According to UNICEF, the conditions of access to water and basic hygiene products are still problematic: 63% of Africans living in urban centers cannot wash their hands with soap. Our friends from Nébéday normally work with local communities towards participative management and protection of natural resources. Due to the unique situation, they now decided to provide local communities with informative material and hygiene kits to help in the fight against the new Coronavirus, making sure everybody can wash their hands and be aware of COVID-19, even in rural areas.
Raising awareness for preventive measures is a first step towards containing the pandemic, and Senegalese street artists understood it well. The RBS crew painted graffiti on walls to communicate about the essential preventive measures to take, such as regularly washing hands, social distancing, etc.
Kudos to all initiatives, showing that staying connected and resilient can make a change.
Little Sun response
Little Sun is responding to the global pandemic with a focus on energy for health and livelihoods in areas affected by the virus. We are providing health facilities with solar energy to keep lights on and medicines cold, and delivering hand held solar phone chargers to remote health workers to help them care for patients while in the field. We are working with manufacturers to produce and distribute cotton masks to health workers and local communities, as well as providing soap and information material about the safety measures. This not only helps our partners stay safe, but it provides a steady income, particularly for women, during an uncertain time.
Visit this article from Al Jazeera if you would like to see Dakar’s life in pictures.