Plan International Philippines, an international child-focused and girls rights development and humanitarian organization, is working with the government, private sector, civil society organizations, and communities to reach vulnerable people including children, young women and girls, in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst health crisis of our generation. It is severely challenging the Philippines, with the rising number of COVID-19 cases, health and governance systems operating on maximum capacity, and quarantine and physical distancing measures in place, over 2 million workers have lost their employment and 22 million students are out of school due to the pandemic.
Despite stringent physical distancing measures and continued increase of testing and treatment capacities, the Philippines stands as the most unsafe country to be in during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Asia-Pacific Region, with over 9,000 confirmed cases and more than 600 fatalities.
Providing immediate humanitarian assistance
Plan is supporting the needs of COVID-19 affected communities in 22 provinces and 1,055 villages or barangays for at least the next six-months providing hygiene kits (including menstrual hygiene items) and water kits, medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPEs) to health workers and frontliners, cash-for-work programs, adolescent health counselling, psychosocial support to patients and affected families, and dissemination of information, education, and communication (IEC) materials on the risks of contracting and spreading COVID-19.
In Metro Manila, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, Plan is distributing food packs, hygiene kits, and PPEs, and multipurpose cash assistance for hundreds of families from Valenzuela, Manila, Marikina, Taguig, and Quezon cities.
COVID-19 has made already vulnerable people, displaced earlier in late 2019 and early 2020 by typhoons, earthquakes and the Mt. Taal volcanic eruption even more vulnerable so Plan adjusted on-going assistance to these people. Plan has provided hygiene kits, and cash grants to displaced communities in Mindanao, the Visayas and Southern Luzon, and disinfectants, sanitation items, ventilation equipment, and information materials to frontliners and communities affected by the 2017 Marawi siege.
“Populations already hit by typhoons and earthquakes are made more vulnerable by the pandemic and so it is critical that they continue to receive the assistance needed.” said Plan International Philippines Country Director Dennis O’Brien.
Fighting the infodemic
COVID-19 has triggered an “infodemic” of false news, disinformation, misinformation, myths, and conspiracy theories that are impeding response actions.
Plan conducted a Rapid Information, Communication, and Accountability Assessment (RICAA) to better understand communities’ understanding of the pandemic and information needs. Out of 1,460 respondents, 62% identified rumors and false information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, most commonly on the nature of the coronavirus, possible cure, and rules regarding the imposition of lockdown and physical distancing in their communities.
To make the right information available to communities, Plan is collaborating with the Department of Health (DOH) and government technology startup AI4GOV in developing the KontraCOVID chatbot, otherwise known as KIRA (Knowledge Informs Responsible Action). KIRA is an automated chatbot that lets the public get through Facebook Messenger, and Viber reliable and accurate COVID-19 information. A web-based triage system – www.kontracovid.ph– was also launched to enable users to ask about their symptoms and exposure and receive appropriate advice about their preliminary COVID-19 classification.
“Innovations such as KIRA can significantly improve response effectiveness by providing the right information to people who need it, when they need it, through their mobile phones. We will continue to work with the government and private sectors to find the most effective ways to reach people.” said O’Brien.
Plan also conducts risk communication through orientations and campaigns with community health workers, community-level information broadcasting through SMS text blasting, with child-friendly and gender-responsive feedback mechanisms to hear in real time whether we are meeting community needs.
Through pre-COVID-19 initiatives such as the Youth Reporter Project and the Girls Get Equal campaign, Plan is working with young people and girl leaders in producing digital communication products for raising awareness on COVID-19.
Protecting children, girls and young women in health emergencies
Plan International Philippines also recognizes that health crises affect girls and boys, women and men differently. While children’s health appears less impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic than older adults, children’s education is interrupted, protection systems disrupted and their families and communities placed under stress by new health and economic burdens.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in lockdowns and quarantine measures, has put children, girls and young women at heightened risk of violence at home and cut them off from protection services and support networks. In the Philippines, 60% of cases of child violence happened at home.
For some girls and young women, being stuck at home may also reduce the already limited access to menstrual hygiene products and adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health services. “Our experience is that children, girls and young women are particularly hard-hit in emergencies. They are faced with disruption in education, increased risk of abuse and violence, and mental health risks,” said O’Brien.
Plan Philippines is currently working with the country’s biggest alliances of child rights organizations, including the Joining Forces Alliance to End Violence Against Children and the Child Rights Network, in ensuring that children and girls are not neglected in the COVID-19 response of the national and local government, pushing for increased funding and dedicated staff for child protection and support services during this public health crisis.
Plan International Philippines is conducting a perception survey among girls and young women to better understand how they are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Danica, a 16-year-old Plan International girl leader from an island municipality in the province of Samar, is concerned about how the pandemic may disproportionately affect girls from marginalized communities like her.
“I am worried about the growing impact of this pandemic especially to my health and education. Because of the quarantine measures, I wasn’t able to complete the exams and I’m afraid that this might affect my academic performance for the semester,” shared Danica. “Living in an island, I’m also anxious if services and supplies of hygiene items, such as sanitary pads, would reach us.”
The perception survey is being used as a tool to monitor the situation of girls and young women like Danica, assess their needs and level of participation during the pandemic, and analyze trends in protection of girls’ rights and violence against girls and women. The result of the analysis will be used to adapt the organization’s COVID-19 response.
“Our work always ensures that children, young women and girls get the assistance they need for their physical, emotional, mental and educational needs and that they get to meaningfully participate in the response efforts. They cannot be left behind in the fight against this pandemic. ,” O’Brien said.
Photos may be accessed here.
Alyza Joy V. Narvaez
Communications Specialist-Media Relations, Plan International Philippines
Phone: +63 998 962 2399