Women in Vanuatu are leading national efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19

As the global COVID-19 pandemic heats up, women in Vanuatu took the response into their own hands to develop the first national public health message about the virus.

20.03.20

On 13 March 2020, key members of Women Wetem Weta (Women’s Weather Watch or WWW) worked closely with the Vanuatu Ministry of Health (MoH) to develop an SMS in the local language Bislama. 

The message, in simple non-technical language, was sent to more than 77,148 people on five islands across the Digicel mobile network – directly reaching more than one quarter of the Vanuatu population. 

SMS translation: ‘Avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections. Frequently wash hands with soap and water. Cover nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.’

Established in 2018 by ActionAid Vanuatu (AAV) through the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Gender Action Platform, Women Wetem Weta has supported women to lead early warning and crisis prevention efforts by putting information and technology in the hands of women leaders. 

Over the past two years, WWW has cemented itself as a leading early warning system for climate emergencies like tropical cyclones, droughts and floods across Vanuatu, empowering women to exercise their agency, knowledge and to lead in times of crisis.

Although the WWW network usually uses SMS to share information that helps communities prepare to face weather emergencies; the women in WWW are adapting their skills to share important public health messages about stopping the spread of Corona virus in their communities. 

Crucially, the network provides the opportunity for women from across Vanuatu to meld their local knowledge with scientific information. The women at the heart of the WWW hub have developed sought after skills in communications and women’s rights in a disaster and become leaders on disaster response and resilience in their local communities. 

“Through the WWW, we have provided our communities with accurate and timely information during the COVID-19 public health crisis ensuring that our women and communities are well prepared,” says Flora Vano, ActionAid Vanuatu Country Program Manager.

In addition to the national SMS, the WWW activated the WITTT (Women I Tok Tok Tugeta) network to spread the information through women’s networks reaching community members in even the most remote corners of Vanuatu. WITTT was established post-Cyclone Pam and has 4,800 members around the country and is focused on supporting women’s leadership and resilience in times of crises.

“Given that women are usually responsible for caring for the family at home, they can plan ahead to be well prepared and prevent the entire family from getting sick,” says Flora.

The WWW is gearing up to be a key platform for the continued distribution of public health messages on the prevention of COVID-19 as well as measures that can be taken to prevent disease outbreak through hygiene, quarantine and self-isolation.

The network will be an invaluable resource for women across Vanuatu to express their concerns and questions from women in these communities.

 

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