The Role of Community-based Organizations in COVID-19 Response

Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Syria
December 10, 2021
Case Study

Executive Summary

Community-based organization (CBO) activities are often not sufficiently acknowledged and publicized in humanitarian response, and the COVID-19 pandemic response is, regrettably, following the same trend. The objective of this report is to outline the various contributions of CBO activities in terms to COVID-19 response, with a special emphasis on the case studies of Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Syria through a process of data scoping, as part of iMMAP's COVID-19 Situation Analysis Project. Ultimately, CBOs have the reputation for being underresourced as well. The lack of resources however does not hinder their performance, as they excel at maximizing their available resources. Despite their significant and proven contribution, they often remain unacknowledged in international reporting structures, limiting international perceptions of their involvement and impact.

Bangladesh: The available domestic data concerning the Rohingya crisis is generally regarded as sensitive. Despite the politically delicate context, CBOs have placed a large focus on community health messaging. In Bangladesh, there is ongoing political tension between the local CBOs based in Cox's Bazar, and the national NGOs based in Dhaka who have received easier access to humanitarian funding related to the crisis. The range of CBO activities have included health screenings at camp entry points, PPE distribution, and COVID-19 health audio messaging shared throughout the camp area. Coordinating bodies like Cox's Bazar CSO – NGO forum (CCNF) have assisted CBOs to increase their voice and visibility.

Burkina Faso: The beginning of the pandemic in Burkina Faso, saw the CBOs reacting with excitement, with the media reporting a flurry of activity. Yet, as the pandemic continued its course and the number of reported cases remained low, CBO activity in the country turned their attention towards diseases with higher rates of infection and identified cases, such as malaria. Many CBO activities in Burkina Faso for COVID-19 operated upon donations of PPE or hygiene equipment, or from other COVID-19 awareness raising.

Nigeria: Similarly to Burkina Faso, Nigeria also witnessed a relatively low number of reported COVID-19 cases, and as a result of it, there was not a significant need for CBO activities on COVID19 related matters. There was an interesting case study of CBOs in Borno state that coordinated between each other and the Government in order to ensure the continuation of essential health services that were later disrupted by pandemic policies. As the reported case numbers continued to remain low, CBOs in Nigeria shifted their focus towards vaccine education and sensitization.
The INGO Forum, NINGONET, the Network of Civil Society Organizations and National Network of NGOs are some the Nigerian coordinating bodies that either have CBOs as members or have direct involvement in the coordination of activities.

Syria: Due to its political situation, the environment for CBOs varies greatly depending on the region in question (Northwest Syria, Northeast Syria and Central Syria). If located in the particularly challenging government-controlled areas, CBOs face a number of difficulties when it comes to implementation of activities. Official registration remains difficult which explains why many of these entities remain unregistered. The inability to register their presence in the region only increases their vulnerability. In spite of these obstacles, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen several grassroots initiatives taking place. Most notably, the Volunteers Against Corona campaign succeeded in convincing thousands of volunteers to raise awareness and communicate health messaging via social media platforms like WhatsApp. There have also been reports of direct aid to families due to the heightened hardships of COVID-19 from ostensibly unregistered entities.

In sum, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria had relatively few major gaps in information access, though each one required and adopted a different approach in order to access this information. For Syria, however, the situation was quite different due to the political context, particularly in attaching a CBO name to specific activities. Lessons learned included the importance of strong project monitoring processes carried out in coordination with other CBO actors, as well as the local Government. CBOs also learned the seriousness of combatting the misinformation related to the pandemic and the usefulness of involving local communities at every stage of the project. One best practice that emerged was using door-to-door techniques when trying to reach women.

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