COVID-19 has placed unprecedented global pressure on essential health supplies, putting the most vulnerable at risk of ‘missing out’. In Sudan, this means hundreds of thousands in Khartoum’s poorest urban area, Mayo, and similar locations.
Facing a national outbreak, the Government, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society have mobilized. Purchasing and distributing health and hygiene supplies, sharing information with community members, and protecting at-risk groups are just some of the ways UNDP and other organizations are assisting.
But the task is significant, health supplies are running low, and new solutions are required.
For two years the Italian Development Cooperation has supported UNDP-provided job training for vulnerable women and youth in Mayo, creating alternatives for those potentially forced into conflict or crime. Soapmaking has been a popular and lucrative option for trainees, and one suddenly in high demand.
Adapting existing projects to COVID-19 response, Italian funding enabled UNDP to commission 18 soap makers in Mayo to rapidly and COVID-19-safely produce 5,500 bottles of liquid handwash (enough for 33,000 people) - and to purchase 1,500 bottles of additional stock.
Then, in partnership with local taxi company Go Cars, community networks, NGOs and advocates, the supplies were distributed – safely – to those most in-need in Khartoum State.
Complementing these efforts, rapidly repurposed funds from the Government of Norway ensured another 2,000 households – about 10,000 people – were supplied with purchased soap and other hygiene supplies in Mayo.
Supporting livelihood opportunities and hygiene supply needs elsewhere, urgent soapmaking has also been carried out in Sudan’s While Nile and Sennar States.
Generous support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) has ensured production of 12,000 soap or sanitizer products in Sennar (given to 4,000 people), while Sida and the Government of the Netherlands support has produced 7,000 soap or sanitizer products in White Nile, benefiting 8,000 people, including many South Sudanese refugees. Critically, all assistance has meant supplies can be delivered safely.
“Responding to COVID-19 takes every resource we can muster,” said UNDP Sudan’s Resident Representative Selva Ramachandran. “It’s not a traditional approach to pandemics, but mobilizing our previously trained producers has supported community health and provided much needed revenue.”“We’re now exploring kickstarting domestic production of personal protective equipment, meeting national and regional needs, protecting health and creating livelihoods for those impacted.”
While regular soapmaking increased the income and quality of life of those trained, the extra UNDP-requested work has ensured they are better financially equipped to cope with the COVID-19 crisis and lockdown.
For women in some locations, it was also a chance to contribute to the COVID-19 response - some forwent their additional profit (on top of wages) to ensure extra soap could be produced and distributed.
Discussing their new work before the outbreak, Halima, a UNDP-trained soap maker said: “Before [the training] we were just a bunch of poor women sitting around doing nothing and with no income.”
“Now, we sell our products in the neighborhood markets and hospital, each of us makes an average monthly income of 1200 SDGs, and our income goes to paying school fees for our children.”