PIN responds to COVID-19 in Syria with distance learning, treatment rooms, and hygiene kitsPublished: Apr 17, 2020 Reading time: 5 minutes
While many countries have implemented stringent measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and provide treatment to those who have been infected, people in Syria have been living in emergency mode for years. If the coronavirus reaches the most vulnerable Syrians in the country’s north, as many experts expect it will, an already dire situation could become catastrophic.
To prepare for this eventuality, People in Need (PIN) is working to protect Syria’s most vulnerable from infection. Although PIN does not engage in direct health interventions, we support these efforts through programming in other sectors. Below are some of the ways we are helping.
When authorities announced restrictions on schools as part of their COVID-19 response in mid-March, PIN began developing a distance learning methodology to ensure continued educational support for children. This new methodology was developed by PIN education experts in collaboration with teachers from the schools and learning centers we support.
“Last week, teachers participated in training workshops in order to prepare themselves for this new way of teaching. They have been recording lessons as voice messages and adapting homework to be online,” says Zsofia Pitcz, PIN Syria’s Protection and Education Program Coordinator. “This week, they have started putting their training into practice, targeting all 15,500 children that PIN supports with education. We expect that 75 percent of them will be able to actively participate.”
Hasan teaches math to sixth graders at a PIN-supported school in Idlib province. “We coordinated with the students’ parents to create WhatsApp groups for each subject. We also set up a schedule for sessions so that we can prepare in advance,” Hasan explains. Despite the many challenges that teachers are facing, Hasan says that moving to online teaching is better than children being completely deprived of education. He is excited to learn about distance teaching and looks forward to sharing this motivation with his students.
Psychosocial support activities
Psychosocial support (PSS) activities are also a crucial component of our commitment to education and protection in Syria. For children who may already suffer from distress caused by conflict and displacement, the closure of schools and learning centers is yet another blow to their well-being. For this reason, PIN is bringing psychosocial support activities to homes, where children and parents can participate together. “We are currently piloting a system of specially-designed, home-based PSS activities,” says Pitcz. “These will be distributed through WhatsApp in 15 camps for displaced people in northern Syria. We are also exploring ways to mitigate the challenges of a lack of access to technology and internet faced by the most vulnerable families.”
Treatment rooms and hygiene kits
PIN is also designing isolation and treatment rooms for the COVID-19 response in northern Syria. After the completion of an assessment of existing hospitals, PIN began identifying contractors to undertake the repairs needed to ensure that health facilities have adequate space for potential patients.
People who have been displaced often lack even the most basic necessities, so we are distributing hygiene kits as a priority response. These kits contain essentials such as soap, towels, dishwashing liquid, jerry cans, and buckets, thus giving people the tools to improve their own hygiene and safety. “Now the children can wash their hands every time they need to,” says Ahmed, a beneficiary from Idlib province. “Some people might not value this kit, but personally, I find it very important, especially during this coronavirus crisis.”
Furthermore, PIN continues to distribute critical food provisions, while adapting distribution procedures to decrease the risk of COVID-19 transmission among beneficiaries and to protect our staff as they perform these essential tasks that cannot be done from home.
Protection through awareness
Finally, in coordination with authorities and other humanitarian organizations, PIN is raising awareness of COVID-19 among the population, as this is key to preparedness and response. We are distributing messages about health and safety throughout all of our programming, assessments, and distributions, and in all PIN-supported spaces such as vocational centers, schools, bakeries, and child-friendly spaces. We are also cleaning and sterilizing these areas, as well as distributing disinfectant.
COVID-19 in Syria
The war in Syria recently entered its 10th year. As a result of an escalation in the first months of 2020, a cruel, new offensive displaced close to 1 million additional people in three months, adding more suffering to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), despite the de-escalation of hostilities in northwest Syria thanks to a ceasefire in March, nearly 4 million people remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
The additional preparedness and response required to contend with COVID-19, along with the existing needs of displaced people and their host communities, make these among the most challenging times since the beginning of the Syrian crisis.
“Millions of people are at high risk of contracting COVID-19, and a major outbreak of the virus in northern Syria would have devastating consequences. Even countries with advanced healthcare systems have buckled under the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Syria, years of war have left the fractured healthcare system barely functional,” says Rodrigo Serqueira, PIN Syria Country Director.
Since December 2019, more than 84 hospitals and medical facilities have been damaged, destroyed, or forced to close their doors due to violence or shortages in northwest Syria alone. This means that 4 million people, hundreds of thousands of whom live in precarious conditions in camps and temporary shelters, have minimal or no access to health services. Testing for COVID-19 in northwest Syria has recently begun, with no officially confirmed cases thus far.
The country - like much of the world - has taken increasingly stringent protective measures to limit the spread of the virus within its borders. However, different rules apply in the various areas of influence, which has led to a complex and dynamic operating environment for the delivery of essential aid.
For these reasons, in addition to its other advocacy efforts, PIN has joined a campaign calling for a global ceasefire, to enable us to continue supporting vulnerable people, ensuring the protection of humanitarian and healthcare workers, and responding to multiple challenges on the ground.