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Somaliland partners PPE delivery ;

Partnership in a time of crisis: Reflections on our Covid-19 response work

Laura Hucks

Director, King's Global Health Partnerships

04 August 2020

Last week we held a webinar, bringing together staff and partners and many of our wider support network, to reflect on what we have achieved these past few months. At King’s Global Health Partnerships (KGHP), we are lucky to draw on the skills and passion of NHS staff and King’s College London to support health workers in four African countries.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, we have worked alongside our partners to provide training and mentoring to health workers and patients, build confidence and morale, share the latest evidence, and provide much needed psycho-social support. We have drawn on our network of volunteers across NHS Trusts and beyond to offer training and mentoring both in person and over on-line platforms. The challenges of recent months have been unparalleled for the NHS but the commitment to our partnerships has been unwavering.

 

IDU team outside PPE room at Connaught Hospital

The webinar highlighted just how tough it has been for the frontline health workers in the low-resource countries where we work. We are so lucky to have a strong health system in the UK. We heard from Somaliland and Sierra Leone, where patients and health workers alike are scared to come to hospitals and clinics because they don’t feel safe. We heard about the stigma that has left health workers isolated, rejected by their families and communities. We heard about the material challenges also – the lack of supplies, PPE, equipment, oxygen – and the debilitating impact of the virus on other health services, with terrible consequences for the many patients who are sick with diseases such as Malaria, TB and HIV, or who are in need of surgery.

What makes me most proud to be part of KGHP’s work is that the foundation of all our work is partnership with local institutions. When I worked at Oxfam, the humanitarian staff would talk about a ‘step aside’ process, which would happen in response to an acute crisis. This ‘step aside’ meant that the local office moved out of the way so that a team of international responders could come in. The driver behind this decision was speed, which is critical especially in a natural disaster where every minute counts. But colleagues acknowledged that with this came trade-offs. Often valuable knowledge of communities, culture and existing relationships were sacrificed.

These partnerships are built on trust and respect, which have grown through long-term engagement and a common desire to strengthen health systems. [They] are the product of close working relationships and personal connections between peers – nurses and doctors from Africa and the UK.– Laura Hucks, Director, King's Global Health Partnerships

We have approached the Covid-19 crisis in the same way that we approached the Ebola crisis in 2014/15. The relationships we have are everything. We have not parachuted in – we have been working alongside our partners for many, many years – 20 years in the case of our Somaliland partnership. We haven’t even had a lot of financial resources to bring to the table like some of the larger NGOs. While we would have liked to have more funding, it’s really not the most critical aspect of our work.

 

These partnerships are at times tricky to manage and frustrating for both sides, but they are also built on trust and respect, which have grown through long-term engagement and a common desire to strengthen health systems. All of our partnerships are the product of close working relationships and personal connections between peers – nurses and doctors from Africa and the UK.

And these are partnerships which bring mutual benefit. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought this into stark relief – those who volunteered during the 2014 Ebola outbreak took valuable learning into the early days of the NHS response in March and April. Our UK volunteers are not saviours – their experience is rooted in collaboration, learning and development. As Emma Bailey, our Clinical Lead in Sierra Leone rightly said: ‘It’s about listening, as much as it is about doing’.

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