Francophone West Africa Webinar Shares Adaptations to High-Impact Practices During COVID-19
TCI’s Francophone West Africa (FWA) hub hosted a webinar on May 19 to share experiences from the region in adapting its high-impact best practices in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The topics covered include how to implement meaningful youth engagement activities in new ways, how to continue service amidst COVID-19 health regulations and how to ensure municipality commitment. Over 190 people attended the webinar from countries in West Africa and beyond, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, France, India, Niger, the Philippines, Senegal and the United States.
The webinar – hosted by Dr. Josephat Avoce, the Regional Program Manager for adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health (AYSRH) for TCI’s FWA hub – featured Loreine Kawane, a Youth Leader (Jeunes Leaders Transformationnels, or JLTs) and the Advocacy Lead of the JLTs in Koudougou, Burkina Faso. She said COVID-19 restrictions limited the number of participants able to attend in-person meetings, making advocacy workshops difficult to organize. The solution was to limit the number of participants at in-person meetings and pivot to organizing online trainings when feasible. These online sessions provided the opportunity for several cities across West Africa to come together to train youth leaders. A total of 230 youth leaders from Abidjan, Bouaké, Koudougou, Niamey, Ouagadougou, and UCOZ were trained as a result, and there was noticeable involvement of more youth.
In addition, the trained JLT continued their advocacy efforts in spite of COVID-19, which led to a notable memorandum from the Departmental Directors of Health of Zou and Littoral, in UCOZ and Cotonou, Bénin, that standardized the costs for family planning services for the first time for both public and private health facilities. This was a huge win for all stakeholders but especially the JLT, as noted by Nisette Samba, President of JLT in Cotonou:
The high costs of contraceptive methods did not allow all women and especially young people to access health care, especially FP services.”
Monique Coulibaly, the Reproductive Health Coordinator for the Abobo East Health District in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, presented on strengthening the health care system during COVID-19 to ensure continuity of services. She focused on the Family Planning Special Days Approach that aims to reach the largest number of women in underserved areas through set days when family planning services are available at no cost. Prior to the onset of COVID-19, Abobo East hosted 500 clients per month at Family Planning Special Days. In March 2020, COVID-19 regulations halted implementation of FP Special Days. When FP Special Days resumed in September 2020, they were adapted to accommodate no more than 50 people at once. And attendance was also impacted by people still worried about getting sick from COVID. TCI-supported health centers used radio spots to raise awareness of the FP Special Days and the COVID-19 protective measures put in place. Health talks on contraceptive methods are now conducted outdoors and seating for clients is socially distanced. Masks are provided to attendees of FP Special Days, as well as hand sanitizer and hand washing stations, so clients can attend FP Special Days with confidence. As a result of these efforts, Coulibaly said Abobo has seen the uptake of long-acting reversible contraceptive methods increase because clients want to limit their visits to health centers.
The final presenter was a local government stakeholder, Wahabo Kiendrebeogo, the AYSRH Focal Point for the Ouagadougou municipality in Burkina Faso. Kiendrebeogo spoke about adapting the municipality’s health care system in response to COVID-19 while maintaining its commitment to providing quality family planning services. The pandemic caused shifts in budget priorities, resulting in fewer funds made available to implement TCI’s high-impact interventions. Advocacy was required to push municipalities to respect their commitments to fund all areas of health. In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ouagadougou municipality disbursed 30 million CFA (nearly $56,000) for implementing the interventions from January to December 2020, which was a 57% increase from their commitment. In addition, Kiendrebeogo spoke about how protecting health care workers is of the utmost concern for the government, so they provided personal protective equipment with the funding and held meetings online instead of in-person when appropriate and feasible.
These experiences demonstrate how family planning implementers and managers can successfully adapt TCI’s high-impact interventions to fit current constraints brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This flexibility is critical in building resiliency in the health system amid current and future crises and disasters.
Watch the French or English recording of the webinar to learn more about program adaptations made in FWA during COVID-19.