By Tatenda Macheka
Amid the COVID 19 pandemic, World Food Programme food distribution points have provided a one-stop-shop for millions of Zimbabwe. It has become a platform for knowledge exchange as well as a go-to place for family planning commodities.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is the largest humanitarian organization in the UN system, with the deepest field presence in the most difficult settings. WFP’s vast footprint across Zimbabwe provides the opportunity for partners across the humanitarian and health sector to use its food distributions as a one-stop-shop for providing essential information and services. In response to COVID-19, WFP is working with the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) provides Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) to millions of Zimbabweans who have been restricted movement due to the national COVID19 lockdown.
Twenty-nine-year-old Delight Mukwinditsa, a mother of three boys from Kamutanho in Mutare said the partnership will help many including her.
“The nearest health centre is 16 km from where I stay, and it was difficult for me to get these family planning commodities. But now it is easier we are getting everything at once,” she added.
Delight says when COVID hit she was already grumbling with drought and the declining economic downturn.
“When the lockdown was introduced we were already battling hunger and this economy so the challenges are becoming more and more. It is difficult to make a living in this environment. It is more difficult if you are a woman because it means you need to find solutions to all these problems even when there is no solution in sight. Can you imagine this is our daily life?
“But thanks to the support from WFP and its partners it takes part of the burden from our shoulders,” she added.
The fight against COVID19 meant that society had to stop a lot of things such as going to school and gatherings.
During the food distribution in some parts of the country like Manicaland province, UNICEF and GOAL dissemination information, spreading awareness on social distancing, handwashing, wearing of masks, and distributing communication material and soap.
Hellen Bushawo is a village health worker responsible for more than 300 households in Kamutanho village. Hellen says the WFP FDPs has become more than a food collection point but a public sphere where the community meets in the open air to exchange ideas at a safe distance from one another.
“I am delighted by the platform delivered by WFP. We are advocating for behaviour change in communities. It is my duty to make sure that the message reaches out to everyone,”
WFP plans to provide food assistance to the most food insecure Zimbabweans at over 1,500 food distribution points in 60 districts, throughout the lean season and before the next harvest. The internal analysis estimates that 3 million people are acutely food insecure in Zimbabwe and this will likely increase to 4.2 million by the end of the year As Zimbabwe grapples with an unprecedented economic crisis, the impacts of cumulative drought and now the COVID-19 pandemic on top of it all – the situation is more challenging than ever.
To cushion many WFP already extended its lean season assistance programme beyond April (to May and June) when it would normally end, because of the prolonged drought and economic situation most families in Zimbabwe were already facing. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic spreading throughout the country and the nationwide lockdown further worsening the country’s economy, without a doubt, WFP’s lean season assistance operation had to continue and is continuing to support the most vulnerable and food-insecure families in the country, in a safe and secure manner to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The partnership is riding on WFP’s extensive footprint to provide essential and life-saving SRHR services, including condom distribution, information dissemination, and distribution of key SRHR leaflets and posters. Access to public health services such as family planning measures and information have been limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic – so through UNFPA and MoHCC making these products and services available at WFP food distributions, communities can now access them on their doorstep.
To date, 1,8 million male condoms and 88,000 female condoms have been moved from National Pharmaceutical Company (Natpharm) to WFP for onward distribution at its food distribution sites. WFP is working with UNFPA’s Community programme Implementing Partners and MoHCC to ensure families are accessing condoms and SRHR information in a safe and secure manner, to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Recent statistics by the Department of Maternal Health-Ministry of Health and Child Care shows that Maternal deaths are very high in Zimbabwe, at 651 deaths per 10,000 live births. Evidence has shown that most of the neonatal and maternal deaths occur within 72 hours of delivery after a woman is discharged from the health facility. Most mothers are discharged immediately after delivery; this does not give them an opportunity to get personal medical attention and makes them more susceptible to complications and even death. This why WFP is supporting these waiting homes. The maternity waiting homes provide access to skilled birth attendants and improve birth maternal and neonatal outcomes.
The numbers of pregnant women coming to hospitals for delivery are not only high but gradually rising and set to continue in that trend as more mothers become aware of the WFP initiative says Bonda Mission Matron Sister Paswa.
“This means that more women have access to good quality obstetric services, avert potential maternal deaths due to unattended complications during labour, and have much-needed nutrients while waiting to deliver,” she added
The partnership between WFP and UNFPA has also been of real value to maternity waiting homes across Zimbabwe. WFP provides a food basket (cereal, pulse, oil, and super cereal) to the waiting mother’s shelters in four provinces (Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Manicaland, and Mashonaland Central). Since the first case of COVID19 was detected in Zimbabwe more than 6500 mothers were supported by WFP and UNFPA.
Thanks to funding from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (EU ECHO), USAID, Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), WFP managed to reach affected communities with critical food assistance and other relief items.