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COVID-19 vaccination declared a challenge for government

Islamabad : Vaccination of the people against coronavirus will be a huge challenge for the government and the rural support programmes can help ensure an access of the residents of far-flung areas to the vaccine, said Islamabad deputy commissioner Hamza Shafqaat on Thursday.

He was speaking during the National Convention of LSOs 2021, which was held by the Rural Support Programme Network (RSPN) online. This year, the themes of the annual event were the Role of Community-Driven Development in Socio-Economic Empowerment of Rural Communities in Pakistan; and Community Institutions and their Response to COVID-19 in Partnership with Government and Donors; and as well as Empowering Communities to Improve Nutrition and Economic Opportunities.

The panellists included Nighat Siddiqui (Additional Director General, Election Commission of Pakistan), Ovidiu Mic (Head of Cooperation, European Union Delegation to Pakistan), Mr Hamza Shafqaat (DC Islamabad), Ms Zohra Hunzai (Specialist, UNICEF Pakistan), Dr. Sohail (Senior Technical Staff to Secretary Health, Government of Sindh), Masood Abbasi, Alliance for Safe Motherhood in Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali (Coordinator for Accelerated Action Plan (AAP), Government of Sindh), Shoaib Sultan Khan (Chairman RSPN), LSO community members and RSPN staff.

Hamza Shafqaat appreciated the work of RSPN and shared that RSPN volunteered to work with the Government of Pakistan to work for the anti-COVID drive.

The DC appreciated the efforts of RSPN in raising awareness in rural communities and extending their outreach at the household level.

He said disinfection and chlorination at mosques, massive awareness campaign, distribution of personal protection equipment, sensitisation sessions with households are few activities which RSPN conducted that contributed to lessen 70-80 percent COVID cases in Islamabad. The DC said that the efforts were not limited to raising awareness, but also gave the communities resources (soaps, masks) to fight COVID-19.

Elaborating on the importance of RSPs, he said, “If we (the government) had done this work ourselves, we would have required millions of rupees. However, thanks to the RSPs this was done free of cost,” he said.

About the next steps against COVID-19, the DC said a total of 48,000 vaccinations have already been done in Islamabad. However, considering the population, this is a very small number.

A session on the role of community-driven development in socio-economic empowerment of rural communities in Pakistan was held to understand the need and importance of social mobilisation and achievements of Community Institutions (COs/VOs/LSOs) in empowering rural communities.

Nighat Siddiqui, Additional Director General, Election Commission of Pakistan spoke on the community participation in voter registration. She said RSPs work is instrumental in reaching out to rural communities and connecting the rural households to the policy level.

The RSPs and RSPN should be part of the District Voter Education committees (DVECs) so that women may be mobilised through awareness raising to become decision-makers.”

Ovidiu Mic, Head of Cooperation, European Union Delegation to Pakistan spoke on how RSPN contributes to the European Union mission as well as the Government of Pakistan’s poverty reduction objectives. Mic appreciated RSPN Chairman Shoaib Sultan Khan’s endeavours towards community-driven development strategies in Pakistan.

He added that Programmes under RSPN have showcased that Community Driven Development through LSOs is a way towards an efficient Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS).

The second session on Community Institutions and their response to COVID-19 in partnership with government and donors shared the achievements and learning of Community Institutions as frontline responders during the COVID-19 crisis.

During this session, Bashir Anjum, Specialist Social Sector Services, Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN) said that the RSPs have worked closely with the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC) to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Anjum stated that the RSPs wide outreach throughout the country has resulted in effectively disseminating the COVID-19 preventive messages to everyone, especially the rural communities by targeting the religious leaders, school administrations, engagement with the youth and market committees including shopkeepers.

Ms Shabana Ikhtiar, a Community Resource Person (CRP) from LSO Chirah Islamabad, also spoke about her experience disseminating messages through the community to protect against COVID-19 after being trained on COVID-19 preventive SOPs.

Shabana was awarded for ‘Outstanding Performance’ by PM Imran Khan on the 100 Days of NCOC celebration.

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