Jan 21, 2021

NGOs: Shield of the marginalized during COVID

Chinki Das   (PGMPW 2020)

It was an exhilarating four-day experience amongst the chaos of virtual classes, assignments, case studies and placement pressure. But it reminded us of what it means to be grounded as it connected us with the social sector; a sector that requires empathy and human connectedness. This is exactly what the DOCC experience taught us, the students of business, and I speak for the whole batch of PGMPW 2020.

In the four days, we completely immersed ourselves in the social sector activities albeit virtually. I was quite sceptical on how exactly we would pull it off virtually but SPJIMR had planned it all out meticulously for us. We were assigned to our respective NGOs along with the tasks we needed to accomplish for the NGO. I was paired with Sulabh International, an NGO that is into sanitation, hygiene and human rights. I was required to write an article for them about what NGOs could do to protect the poor from Covid19. Being a researcher in the past, I quickly got into the research mode and delved into many articles online for my write up and finally presented them with my article.

What started as a month or two’s lockdown as a precaution against the spread of an unknown virus has created history now as a pandemic that shook the human race in its entirety after about 100 years since the last pandemic. Coronavirus is a virus that originated in China and is fast spreading around the world causing deaths by affecting the respiratory system. Against this backdrop countries have imposed travel bans, dictum against social gathering, night curfews etc., all in the hope of containing the virus from spreading.

Almost a year later, pharmaceutical companies have found a solution to the problem but currently the drug is limited to very few with a long line waiting in the priority queue based on demographics like age, occupation etc. But who is protecting the poor from the virus?

The marginalized communities in the world are the ones to suffer the most due to limited access to information, sanitation, education and other ways and means to protect themselves. Amongst the developing countries, India has a very large population of the marginalized community, comprising of migrant workers, slum dwellers, poor widows etc. This community suffers from illiteracy and has very little access to sources of staying aware about how to protect themselves from a pandemic like the Covid19. It is against such a backdrop that NGOs have a critical role to play to mitigate the impact of the virus on the weaker sections of the society. Below mentioned are some measures that I encountered during my research for the DOCC article that NGOs like Sulabh International can take to help the marginalized protect themselves against the pandemic.

  1. Segment the target areas into zones as low, middle and high zones based on the likelihood of contracting the disease in those areas. NGOs need to have a zone wise strategy to tackle the issue of preventing the spread of Covid19. For example, the high zones should have the highest recurrence of a prevention activity such as a campaign of handwash. This cannot be a onetime activity but a recurring activity to have a recency effect on the marginalized whereas the intensity of the activity can be relatively lesser for the middle and the low zones. For example, according to an article in the Times of India as of 25th Dec, 2020 the number of new coronavirus cases stood at 3431 with 71 deaths, taking the total count of patients up to 19,13,382 and the death toll to 49,129 in Maharashtra. A high zone could be Dadar which according to an article in Hindustan Times as of September 2020 stated has 2841 cases of which 440 are active. A middle zone could be Dharavi that has the highest concentration of slums but according to BMC’s report in the article, states that it has 2839 cases of which 99 are active. Hence the plan is to have a strategy to target the areas according to the assigned zones.
  2. Since the pandemic has almost been a yearlong phenomenon, it is most likely that it is here to stay for a while. Hence it is important to reinforce habits such as handwashing, sanitation, etc., into the marginalized communities. Campaigns by NGOs need to have a deeper impact. One way ahead could be to appoint a health officer from an NGO whose sole objective would be to do random checks and observe the sanitation levels being maintained across the targeted zones and report in case of inaction. He/She can be the single point of contact for anything related to Corona of that particular zone and report back to the committee taking action on behalf of the NGO.
  3. One other way could be to install screens on site with continuous messaging in local language on it to keep reminding the audience of the consequences of not adhering to levels of sanitation, social distancing, etc. or put hoardings with the same messages in an area of a zone with high footfall, hence ensuring that the messages penetrate the minds of the audience.
  4. With the above measures, focused step by step action can be taken to educate the audience on safety practices. But making sure that the marginalized section of society actually put these to practice, kiosks with masks, sanitizers, soaps, etc. need to be set up across the zones on weekends. Such kiosks should be strategically placed close to washrooms in the locality or banks where audience footfall is the highest.
  5. NGOs could adopt public washrooms in the high, middle and low zones where they take up the responsibility of maintaining the cleanliness of the washrooms and availability of soaps and sanitizers.
  6. Public announcements should be made at vegetable stalls/markets/Mandis and sanitizers could be made available here, as the target audience footfall would be high in such areas.
  7. NGOs can play a critical role in creating awareness through innovative campaigns such as the Handwashing Day campaign 2020 developed by Sulabh International in which along with aiding the government’s efforts to provide free ration to the needy, masks and sanitizers were distributed to frontline workers in Taj Mahal in Agra, ITO and New Delhi railway station and in Dharavi in Mumbai.
  8. NGOs should also take efforts during such times to beat the stigma associated with Covid so that people would come out for treatment in hospitals sooner. Given the fatality of the disease, many-a-times until escalation of health, the marginalized community tend to keep quiet and think that they will automatically recover, but this can only worsen the situation.
  9. NGOs could also work in partnership with corporates to create awareness and distribution among the needy. Corporates such as HUL, ITC, etc. are heavily involved in CSR activities.  Partnering with them will give leverage to NGOs in terms of reach and resources.

There is no doubt that NGOs are innovative when it comes to developing campaigns to tackle the pandemic, but the key issue lies in strategizing to tackle the problem systematically and the implementation of the strategy in an affordable and scalable manner. The need of the hour is distribution of safety gears such as sanitisers, masks and hand wash along with creating awareness to use them amongst the marginalized sections of society. Let’s hope that with the investments from the government and international bodies like WHO, most NGOs are actually taking up the mantle to look out for the poor in these COVID-19 times. I know that Sulabh is.

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