Side event – Civil Society and COVID-19 – responses during the pandemic

Organized by the UNODC Civil Society Unit with the support of Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs

Moderator: Jamie Bridge, Vienna NGO Commitee on Drugs

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director, Division for Treaty Affairs, UNODC [Welcoming remarks]: The event will showcase activities of NGOs upholding services in difficult times. We hope pandemic will be behind us soon, but we’re still in a precarious situation. Effect on the especially vulnerable has been extremely dire. We will be left with millions socioeconomically damaged, and a mental health crisis we do not even comprehend today. Pressure on civil society will be enormous. Your work was, is, and will be even more crucial post-pandemic. Access to controlled – many hospitals left without care, people continue to suffer. Patients unable to receive pain management. Many new innovative ways have been found during the pandemic. UNODC also had to gear up, despite field offices closing operations due to lockdown. Decreased 20%, many beneficiaries don’t benefit from technical assistance or limitedly. HIV prevention among PWUD and people in prisons. Pandemic kept children at home and families in stress, documents have been provided. Health was evidently the first immediate concern, humanitarian concerns replied to in May, immediate social response statement came in April. UN discossions center on how we ca build better, fairer, and more sustainable. Very eager to learn how you and the contexts you operate in have been responding to these challenges. Thank you VNGOC for organizing.

Dr. Katherine Pettus, International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care (Global): Access to controlled medicines 60 years on. IAHPC global organization of palliative care practitioners with a vision for a world free from health-related suffering, which entails access to palliative care and access to internationally controlled essential medicines. There are supply chain blockages (addressed now at another side event), on top of already fragile health systems with low or no access, this has been difficult for palliative and COVID patients. Both need similar medicines, like morphine and midazolam which there are extreme shortages of. Innovative ground level responses – local networks are stepping up. In some Brazilian cities, including carters making sure patients receive controlled medicines, and bodabodas in Uganda delivering because private cars are not allowed on the road. And these are just a few, situation in terms of access is dire. The way forward is changing the narrative – medical opioid, contrary to American narrative are not vectors for addiction and death. It’s system failures that underly the US situation and global crisis of access. We’re training a shadow advocacy pool and publishing and sharing research. Thank you VNGOC -it’s organizations like this that will bring change. Congratulations to the new board – Heloisa and Jamie will make sure controlled medicines are on the agenda.

Omar El Ghiati, Vice President, Moroccan Green Crescent: Had great impact on local NGOs, adapt way of supporting addicts and their families. Launched special program to support them overcome pandemic challenges. Listening units created, psychologists, doctors, lawyers who can be contacted by addicts or families for support they need, shared to facebook page. Received over 900 calls from addicts and families, 70% received from families seeking answers and advice how they can convince their addicted relative to accept treatment stop addiction, visit a doctor. Whatsapp calls and messages – most people needed someone to listen to them, propose treatment, teletreatment for the time being. Only 270 addicts contacted us and 10% were able to physically visit office and receive treatment for addiction. 20 addicts successfulyy stopped addiction since last March. Cannbai,s alcohol, cigarettes, benzodiazepines – wide variety of substances used. Idea is to provide help remotely. As a local NGO, we’ll try to further develop this initative. We thought this would be temporary but it’s not, still facing the restrictions. Happy to say it’s a successful initative. Addicts need support and we can do that through listening unit. We’re trying to develop a digital platform to make access easier – we need resources. But even with li mited resources NGOs can actually help with innovative solutions, like a list of doctors on facebook, very basic tools. With limited resources we can work, pandemic can’t be a challenge that stops us.

Mutaawe Rogers, Uganda Youth Development Link: Following the lockdown measures, over 2000 slum youth and poor children we’re serving scattered and few went home. Youth experiencing homelessness ere worst hit by the pandemic. Also see sexual exploitation of children in exchange for basic needs such as clothing, food, shelter. Children were on the verge of relapsing. Challenges were restricted movement and perishable goods. Stress, anxiety trauma related to losing work, getting behind on rent, employers not hiring. Lack of government to support, especially children. Challenge is how to get business started again, prices are increasing and taxes and burdens are not being reduced. As an organization, reached out to donors and foundations who were able to support. We provided food relief and support, emergency cash transfers to youth and their families, personal hygiene items and protective gears, risk communication and mitigation, sanitary towels for adolescent girls, partnership with government food distribution program in distribution process in slum communities. Online psycosocial and mentoring support directly to youth through phone calls, also using apps like whatsapp, providing COVID-19 safety information as well. Provided safe space in Banda Safe to Red Cross Uganda. Cash transfers have been very instrumental.  Lessons learned – support youth communities, build social capital in communities we’re serving.

Rita Musa, Autamaimasa Health Foundation (Nigeria): Pandemic broadened organization’s reach, supporting persons affected by the pandemic. Follow the news and made inquiries with local governments to identify where interventins are needed the most. Pandemic created avenue for low life expectations and poor standard of living, terrorist attacks by herdsman in April-September 2019, lot of people became displaced so crowded temporary camps were set up where covid-19 infections rate became very high, and killing continued as time went on, also reports of sexual harassments and assaults in camps. Foundation assessed areas with state local security, to provide minimal survival packages and access the towns and temporary camp sites to provide covid-19 assistance for it’s target population, intended to focus on mainly women who use drugs. On reaching the site, the needs of the target population had to include everyone. Problems identified: unavailability of personal protection equipment, poor response time by hospital and health workers to covid emergency, response low from domestic resources, high reliance on international multi-donor funded response, lack of covid-19 prevention education, dependence on traditional healing methods and religious hopes – along with the overpopulated displacement camps. Methods adopted: setting up covid-10 stop shops, strategic units close t the camp for dropping something off; washing hand posts and disposable waste bins at camp sites, vehicles to transport people to hospital, linkages to treatment centers, in-house health personnel to respond to symptoms and covid education.

Alberto Hart, Centro de Información y Educación para la Prevención del Abuso de Drogas (Peru): Sorry for miscalculating time difference between Peru and Vienna. COVID-19 has been devastating to Peru, very negative social and economic impact and government’s capacities have not been enough, requested civil society to help. Alianza por la Amazonia frente al covid-10 – resilience project in the peruvian amazon to mitigate effect of covid-19 on marginalized communities in the area. Articulation is key – reason government called for help is because we can articulate with several governments and different entities on local and district level, regional level and national government. Project generates confidence with beneficiaries, particularly among alternative development farmers. Communicating also with other organizations.

 

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