Actions the New Voices Senior Fellows Took to Address COVID-19 in 2020

Our fellows had an impact around the world

Kennedy Odede, NVF Senior Fellow and Founder of Shining Hope for Communities, which has been distributing soaps, tissues and food for the people living in informal settlements in Kenya. Photo Credit: Kennedy Odede / Twitter

When news began to spread about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in early 2020, a few of the Aspen Institute’s New Voices Senior Fellows were immediately contacted for media interviews and to advise world leaders.

Once the virus began spreading in earnest in March 2020, and nations closed borders and issued stay-at-home orders, dozens of fellows took on leadership roles in their community and beyond to help people stay safe, fed, and informed. Some who are doctors went into the frontlines, others who are researchers helped with efforts to find a vaccine. Many wrote op-eds, gave media interviews and zoom speeches to educate the public and policy leaders about the virus as well as various situations related to the virus and lockdowns that may otherwise be overlooked.

Time and again, the NVF Senior Fellows showed their worth and value as global health experts at a time when their knowledge was sorely needed. Collectively, they had a huge impact.

In total, 78 of our 125 fellows (based in 25 countries) took action to address COVID-19 in 2020.

  • Leadership and Community Action: Below are 16 examples of leadership roles and appointments the NVF Senior Fellows held in their country or community, followed by 41 examples of community action they led related to COVID-19.

Leadership Roles:

These are 16 examples of the leadership roles NVF Senior Fellows held in 2020 related to addressing and stopping the spread of COVID-19.

· Jacqueline Musiitwa, Esq. served as one of the banking and finance leads for the Zambia Business Coalition Council Emergency Taskforce for Covid-19.

· Sisonke Mismang (Australia/South Africa) serves on the board of International Women’s Health Coalition and was very active in their efforts to help people during the COVID-19 crisis.

· Dr. Kusum Thapa who works as a senior technical advisor for Jhpiego was busy helping the Nepali government with their efforts to address COVID-19.

· Dr. Shikoh Gitau was appointed to the Kenyan government’s ICT Advisory committee. Her role is to support the government in identifying and scaling up of innovative solutions for COVID19, but also post COVID, and support them in making data-driven decisions.

· ‘Dapo Oyewole was appointed Special Adviser on Development Planning & International Affairs to the Speaker of Nigeria’s parliament and led the ‘Covid-19 Response Strategy Team.” He wrote an e-book, “Ten Lessons African Governments Should Learn from Tackling the Covid-19 Pandemic” with this accompanying infographic.

· Dr. Renzo Guinto (Philippines) was appointed one of the Commissioners of a new Lancet Commission on the future of health in the post-COVID19 world.

· In January 2020, Dr. Ngozi Erondu (UAE/Nigeria) was one of six experts invited to brief the UK Parliament on the coronavirus.

· Dr. Erondu was also invited to Singapore to speak at a Pandemic Preparedness meeting.

· Robert Hakiza’s organization, Young African Refugees, based in Uganda, was part of a coalition of 39 organizations that called on governments in the Horn, East and Central Africa (HECA) to reopen borders for asylum seekers. The organizations called on governments to put in place measures that manage the current covid-19 health emergency while ensuring asylum seekers can seek protection.

· Dr. Abhilasha Karkey was appointed as a diagnostic advisor for COVID-19 crisis management center that is the technical advisory board for the Minister of Health in Nepal.

· Agnes Igoye joined a Ugandan national taskforce to address COVID-19. She did a lot of work around their policies on border management and border patrol protocol and she was invited to advise the government on the establishment of an Immigration Enforcement Unit.

· Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor led an EpiAFRIC research project to document Nigeria’s preparedness for COVID-19, Nigeria’s response to COVID-19 and lessons for future epidemic preparedness in Nigeria.

· Dr. Rodrigo Bazua worked for a few months for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Mexico as a consultant on COVID-19. He helped plan the strategy to prevent COVID from spreading in the refugee and asylum seeker community and organizing their care with the government in case of need.

· Dr. Adaeze Oreh joined a Nigerian national taskforce to address COVID-19.

· Edinah Masiyiwa was appointed the chair of the Women’s COVID 19 response working group in Zimbabwe. This is a group of women civil society organisations. She trained members of the working group on COVID 19 infection control at community level. She was also a member of the national Infection Control pillar, led by their government. As chair she coordinates COVID 19 response work that civil society is doing.

· Wendo Aszed (Kenya) was appointed to a UN Women working group on how the pandemic is affecting girls in rural areas and she gave input on policies discussed in the working group.

Community Action, Research, and Other Efforts

Here are 40 examples of how NVF Senior Fellows were involved in or spear-headed COVID-19-related community action, research and other efforts in 2020.

· Kennedy Odede and his organization SHOFCO took a very proactive approach to addressing COVID-19 in the Kibera slums in Kenya. By October 2020, they had screened 1.8 million people for virus symptoms, operated 348 handwashing stations across 17 slums and delivered 6,715,850 litres of free water. In an October survey, they were ranked above the Red Cross as the top known organization working to provide assistance since COVID-19 reached Kenya. SHOFCO worked closely with UN, UN-Habitat, OCHA, AMREF and the Government National COVID-19 community task force to ensure that they reach all informal settlements in Kenya. “The pandemic has shown the importance of community-led response to crisis. When the community takes ownership, it becomes possible to do rapid distribution of supplies and information that keep slum residents safe during this pandemic,” Odede said.

· Ola Brown’s air ambulance service, mobile clinic Flying Doctors Nigeria, unveiled a new piece of equipment known as the isolation pod to serve as a temporary shelter to provide quarantine services for patients infected with the Covid-19 virus. “The isopod is designed to enable an efficient air transfer of patients with highly contagious diseases, like Covid-19, while ensuring the absolute safety of both the medical and aviation crew.”

· Mohamed Ali (Somalia) and Dr. Ngozi Erondu (Nigeria) collaborated on COVID-19 related project in Somalia to better track COVID-19 deaths and they put together COVID19 protocols to share with high level organizations.

· Mohamed Ali also worked on translating COVID-19 informational videos and information for immigrant communities.

· Regina Honu’s organization Soronko Solutions in Ghana worked to address what the World Health Organization called “the virus of misinformation.” They created a platform that teaches digital skills and assesses for digital skills. They created a COVID-19 test for children and adults. This test will allow you to test if you are well informed and debunks some myths. It also gives you links to where to get credible information.

· Bisi Alimi (Nigeria) held webinars on COVID-19 through his organization the Bisi Alimi Foundation. He focused on how there’s more to the virus than people getting infected and looked at how LGBQT people will be unique affected (e.g. with schools closing, people may be stuck in unwelcoming and unsafe homes). He had NVF fellows like Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, Dr. Ngozi Erondu and Dr. Stellah Bosire come on as guests to discuss what they know about the virus and how to stop it. He also launched a webpage focused on COVID-19, LGBQT issues and mental health and hosted sessions on managing mental health during a pandemic.

· Kassaga Arinaitwe’s Teach for Uganda fellows continued to work in rural areas with no internet while schools were closed by riding bicycles to drop off homework students and getting lessons shared on local radio stations.

· Lindiwe Sibanda helped lead the IamBulawayo #FightingCovid19 effort to bring together citizens and organizations to coordinate and mobilize resources to fight COVID-19. They worked to facilitate an effective response to COVID-19 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and the surrounding areas, including setting up a Trust through which to mobilize cash and/or kind donations (such as beds, oxygen tanks, generators, ventilators, etc).

· Ramadhani Abdallah Noor worked on supporting the development of the community health volunteers’ COVID-19 response package in Tanzania. This work involved convening partners including ministers of health and local government.

· Rubayat Khan’s social enterprise Jeoon worked to equip pharmacies in Bangladesh to combat COVID-19 in their communities.

· Dr. Shikoh Gitau and Dr. Thumbi Mwangi (both from Kenya) in August launched The Center for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (CEMA) at the University of Nairobi. It “brings together a multidisciplinary consortium of epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, clinicians, mathematicians, statisticians, computer scientists and data scientists using data-driven approaches to control infectious diseases and improve health in Kenya and the African Continent.”

· Dr. Serufusa Sekidde (UK/Uganda) did work for DSK, a drug pharma company and one of the companies trying to find a vaccine.

· Dr. Edward Mabaya (US/Zimbabwe) helped with the African Development Bank’s response to COVID-19 and how to serve all African countries and try to ensure people have enough to eat.

· Dr. Ify Aniebo (Nigeria) was invited in June to be a reviewer on non-pharmaceutical covid19 interventions by the National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine — this was a direct impact from the paper she co-wrote in May.

Ify also co-led a group to carry out a study, where they found that the United Kingdom’s ‘lineage B.1.1.7,’ a mutant variant of the virus, has been existing in Nigeria for months.

· Oluseun Onigbinde’s organization BudgIT launched the COVID-19 Transparency and Accountability Project in Nigeria. It works to promote accountability and transparency through the tracking of COVID-19 intervention funds across seven African countries. “Retrospectively, our experience with tracking COVID19 has shown a deeply rooted systemic profiteering culture, especially in an environment that lacks accountability and civic engagement,” he said.

· Dr. Sam Oboche Agbo (Nigeria), a senior public health advisor & epidemiologist, spent much effort giving remote support to Angola and Kenya on the Covid-19 Response.

· Sathya Raghu was part of the ‘Covid response for farmers’ team along with the ministers and bureaucrats in the State of Telangana, India. His suggestions and their collective decisions resulted in launching a new covid project for the farmers in about 100 villages. Supermarket chains and farmers worked more closely, reducing layers of middle-people. Government buses were repurposed to do vegetable pickups from the villages, which his organization Kheyti orchestrated.

· Dr. Bernard Olayo (Kenya) and his organization Hewatele worked to scale up oxygen supplies needed to keep the most critically ill COVID-19 patients alive. It was featured on Bill Gates’ GatesNotes blog.

· Boaz Keizire (Uganda) is head of Policy and Advocacy at AGRA and developed a response mechanism around COVID-19. They worked to provide aid to small-scale farmers.

· Janet Midega (UK/Kenya) worked for Wellcome Trust and reviewed many grant applications for COVID-19-related activities.

· Narayan Adhikari’s Accountability Lab launched a new campaign: “Coronavirus CivActs Campaign (CCC) to address questions from communities across Nepal and eliminate information gaps between the government, media, NGOs and citizens.” Narayan shared, “Experts suspect that the virus has already entered into Nepal in numbers. The fear of virus is so high that the shortage of basic supplies has begun to be seen in the market…we ran a campaign on awareness raising, mis information management around COVID-19, via our network of young people, public servants and radio network around the country. We also held a social media campaign.”

· Robert Hakiza’s organization Young African Refugees for Integral Development, raised funds to support refugees and asylum seekers in Kampala, Uganda, who were not able to find food because of the government enforced lockdown.

· Dr. Abhilasha Karkey was in the frontlines at a hospital in Nepal. Her team worked on randomized controlled trials for coronavirus 2 prophylaxis for healthcare workers and doing sequencing and diagnostics studies. She wrote an op-ed advocating for the activation of GeneXpert machines, usually used for TB tests, to test for COVID-19.

· Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor’s organization Nigeria Health Watch produced COVID-19 awareness videos across twitter and facebook and one of Nigeria’s top radio stations. Ifeanyi was also prolific writing and giving media interviews about the virus. Early on in the year, he was included in the Onalytica list of Top 100 Healthcare Professionals influencing the Coronavirus conversation.

· Dr. Junaid Nabi (from Kashmir) worked on the frontlines with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s COVID response teams in Boston. He led one of the COVID response units at the hospital for several months.

· Ahmed ‘Kura’ Omar and his organization Kenya Drylands Education Fund (KDEF) worked to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Northern Kenya. This included by providing water and COVID-19 education to the sparsely populations. He also hosted many hand-washing workshops.

· Max Gomera’s (UK/Zimbabwe) piece for Al Jazeera “How to prevent outbreaks of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19,” led to him advising the American Bar Association and Senator Cory Booker on regulatory measures to control environmental origins of coronavirus and prevent more outbreaks. He was invited to speak to the Closter Forum and Princeton University students and University of Cape Town students.

· Naomi Tulay-Solanke’s organization Community Healthcare Initiative (Liberia) worked to help women in quarantine.

· Primah Kwagala (Uganda) of the Women Probono Initiative worked to track cases of gender-based violence committed during lockdowns (3,280 cases between 28 March and 28 April 2020). They also provided legal aid to women with disabilities who lived on the street and had no where to go during lockdown, yet the government officials arrested them for breaking lockdown measures. Once they were released, they still had no where to go. Primah housed some of them herself, some were safer staying in prison until lockdown was done. Primah and her organization did all they could to help these vulnerable women during such a challenging time.

· Dr. Stellah Bosire (Kenya) decided to unhang her stethoscope and join the frontlines at hospitals handing COVID-19 cases.

· Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng volunteered to be on-call in Johannesburg, South Africa, to help handle and respond to any gender-based violence cases during lockdown.

· Abdoul Moumouni (Niger) and colleagues conducted some campaigns in the neighborhoods of Niamey to raise awareness about the pandemic, distributed some hand-washing kits, showed women and kids how to use them, etc.

· Alice Ruhweza (Kenya), the Africa Region Director for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), helped lead a COVID-relief fund. “It’s an African Nature-Based Tourism Collaborative Platform was developed to connect funders to the communities and SMEs most in need of funding support, with a goal of mobilizing at least $15 million to support communities and SMEs in Covid-19 emergency relief efforts and to build greater resilience into the nature-based tourism business model into the future. Using a bottom-up approach, the platform gathered data on impacts to communities and SMEs from the Covid-19 crisis, enhanced knowledge sharing between relevant actors, facilitated the development of funding proposals from communities and SMEs, and made these available to relevant donors. Project focal geographies included Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.”

· Brenda Moore wrote an op-ed for The Bush Chicken about school closures in her Liberia during the Ebola crisis and how to manage schools now. It led to invitations to speak in high-level meetings and contributed to the country closing schools when the first case of COVID19 was diagnosed in mid-March.

Brenda also produced a COVID-19 activity book for children, particularly children of color. Two of the books that Brenda and her organization published this year made it onto the national supplementary reading book list of the Ministry of Education — Deddeh Knows All About Corona Virus and Sundaymah’s Adventure. Her organization launched a “learning by radio” program during lockdown that was useful for students who didn’t have access to the Internet during school closures. They were the first organization to respond in this way. They received the National Literary Award for their work in promoting reading in Liberia.

· Edinah Masiyiwa’s organization Women’s Action Group mobilised PPE (masks, gloves and saniters) which they donated to district level response task forces on COVID-19 in Zimbabwe to strengthen their early response to COVID.

· Isabelle Kamariza’s organization Solid Africa did a lot to feed people in Rwanda. She shared, “Due to Covid-19, on March 23rd, Rwanda’s government issued a strict Stay At Home Order for the entire country. This order restricted the movement of church members and others who often take food to vulnerable patients in hospitals throughout Kigali. Because of our centralized kitchen and our history of quality in our work Solid’Africa was called upon to fill the gap in food service that was created. Our kitchen team of 22 workers and our 38 farmers that provide the raw food goods jumped into action to meet the demand. On March 25th we added 200 patients at Kibagabaga Hospital and 80 patients at Muhima Hospital and on April 6th we added 120 patients at Masaka Hospital.

In just thirteen days we went from supporting 400 patients to supporting 800 patients. In terms of meal production this meant going from producing 1200 meals per day being delivered to one hospital to producing 2,400 meals per day being delivered to 4 hospitals.”

· Maulik Sisodia’s organization Tarun Bharat Sangh raised money to feed over 10,000 families in India who otherwise wouldn’t have the means to get food during a lockdown. They created kits and went into the villages to distribute them. The kits contained 15 essential ingredients sufficient for a month. Then, when migrant workers from cities began returning home, Maulik and his team provided 5,000 of them and their families with cooked food. They also worked to help vaccinate infants and provide healthy and nutritious supplements for pregnant women and new mothers and supported the installation of oxygen plants at hospitals.

· Monalisa Padhee’s organization Barefoot College International worked to spread information about COVID-19 throughout India. One tactic was 60 second phone calls sharing information in local languages. For people with smartphones, another tactic was sending small animated videos with relatable characters speaking in one of nine local dialects. This videos were also available on YouTube. A total of 5852 calls and 44 videos reached 10,630 people.

· Mugove (Gerald) Madziyire did a lot of work in Zimbabwe around COVID-19 including co-writing a paper on Use of Telemedice in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and another upcoming one on indirect effects COVID-19 restrictions on maternal health.

· Naadiya Moosajee (South Africa) shared that her company Women in Engineering created virtual incubators to support female founders online. They made a video series and mentorship series for girls in school. They worked on cybersecurity to protect women online especially as cyberattacks increase as more people work remotely.

· Shadia Elshiwy and a friend co-founded a community art initiative in Egypt to rebrand doctors just not as white coats but as human beings. They used art as way to do that and created “Shukran Tabibi” or “Thank you, my doctor.” It included an exhibition of doctor’s artwork at a gallery for three weeks and interviews with the doctors about their personal lives and dreams. It was all very well received in the community and the doctors were grateful for the opportunity.

A groundbreaking initiative designed to bring more expert voices from the developing world into the global development discussion.

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