COVID Action Collab: Moving from a virus-centric reaction to a people-centric response
By Arpita Sharma
Let’s not lose hope in humanity, instead live to help others. We can make a difference. – Anonymous
This quote aptly sums up the motto of the Covid Action Collaborative, an initiative launched by Swasti – a part of the Catalyst Group, India. Members of the collaborative have deep experience working in public health, community outreach, and creating health solutions for the most vulnerable sections of society.
The COVID Action Collaborative has brought together experts and organizations from a spectrum of domains, such as public health, technology, supply chain, finance, behavioural science, and design, to provide an integrated response and find viable solutions for the challenges created by the pandemic.
In a conversation, Shiv Kumar, Founder, COVIDActionCollab shares with us his thoughts on the current situation and provides insight into the work he is doing with his team.
On what prompted the Catalyst Group to foster the Covid Action Collab…
The challenge in front of us is huge- both in terms of health and economic impact of COVID-19. I believe to overcome this challenge we need to unite as one world and provide an integrated response to COVID-19. This is the time for us to join hands and move from a virus centric reaction to a people centric response. Let us not focus only on the virus, on what it is doing, and the numbers and the dashboards – yes, these are important. But let us not forget the people who are affected and the systems – the MSME systems, the agriculture system, the health system- so they are not left crippled by the virus. We need to ensure that the systems are back in action, so our people can thrive. This is the essence of the COVID Action Collaborative.
The second reason is that crises like these are a great opportunity to make humankind better. I think this is an opportunity for people who have a lot of resources to understand how comfortable and protected they are. For example, it is easy for a middle class or well-to-do person to practice social distancing, but how would a person living in a single-room home with six other people do it? A large section of our country faces this difficulty. A basic precautionary measure is a privilege check for us all. This collaborative will hopefully help foster lessons to be magnanimous towards vulnerable communities.
On his thoughts & feelings on the Collaborative…
I believe we all have assets and capabilities, let’s pool it together and work for common outcomes. We can do it in different ways and in different places. If we collaborate, we can reduce duplication and discovery costs, and save time. Every day that we delay finding a solution, people may lose lives. That is why collaborative action is not an option, it is the only way.
We may have to work on addressing the barriers that prevent collaboration, such as individual boundaries, egos and logos, and really work together to do what needs to be done. It’s been done in the past, it can be done now as well.
As a Collaborative, we bring together 150+ organizations from various spheres, who work with MSMEs, and different sections of society such as marginalised communities, sex workers, and fishermen, to name a few. We are also contributing to other Collaboratives. For example, colleagues from Nigeria reached out to explore synergies to work together. We are sharing assets developed in India with Nigerian colleagues.
Collaboratives are two-way platforms- they are about give and take. In addition to facilitating these exchanges, we are measuring the outcomes of our work and the connections that we have built. We help government and civil society to find synergies to work together and make a difference.
To sum up, I feel a lot of hope and excitement working on this Collaborative. While on one hand, COVID-19 will challenge us, it will also provide an opportunity to bring out the best in all of us.
On what the Covid Action Collab is doing…
The Collaborative is working with different stakeholders in the system – the Government, local authorities and regulatory bodies, civil society organizations, various associations, communities, academics and private organizations- to formulate a calibrated response to COVID-19.
We are leveraging our own reach and coverage to reach the most poor and marginalised, to deliver a range of health and non health packages. These include – prevention packages for health, telehealth, home-based care, food supplies, social protection, and financing for small businesses. We are planning to reach 2 million households in phases. Till now we have covered 127,000 households with these comprehensive packages.
Key members of the Collaborative have worked on humanitarian emergencies like the Latur earthquake and the Tsunami. Working in those crises has made us realise that information asymmetry and lack of coordination are two major issues faced. To address this, we have set up an information exchange where people can share tools, frameworks, resource estimation sheets, modelling, funding opportunities, who needs what funding. The information exchange will help reduce the asymmetry in a way so that people can do what they’re supposed to be doing. All the materials created and information collated by the team are available on the Collaborative’s platform.
The Collaborative and its partners are also working with governments and local administrations to deliver relief packages, healthcare services and information to as many people as possible. We are helping Government benefits reach the most vulnerable sections of the society- fishermen, farmers, and migrants. We are also working with various associations to identify specific needs of each vulnerable group and find viable solutions.
On successful projects rolled out from the Collaborative…
There are several exciting projects that have been rolled out via the Collaborative. Some of these are:
In collaboration with AIIMS, IIT Roorkee has developed a low-cost portable ventilator – Prana-Vayu, that can be used for COVID-19 patients. The Collaborative’s Material group worked on connecting them to relevant authorities for testing and certification. Now the team is identifying funding opportunities to help rollout the ventilators – a much needed resource at this point of time. This is the kind of collaboration that we need! If you have a solution or resource that can help others, bring it forth; let us work with you to see how best it can be leveraged for everyone’s benefit!
We worked with IIM Indore to create the first city-level modelling to predict how the pandemic will affect the city and how many people are likely to be infected and on which day and what Government should do to prepare for the outbreak. This model is the first of its kind in India.
On the basis of this model we have also created a resource estimation toolkit which helps administrations assess what facilities they have and what they would need to serve the public. This includes an assessment of all requirements from the number of doctors, nurses, hospital beds to medicines and other supplies required to respond to the situation. We have conducted this exercise in Indore. It can be replicated in any city in the world. In fact, Lagos will be adopting a similar resource estimation toolkit.
Around 80% of Covid positive people can be treated at home, easing the burden on the healthcare system. To educate families in providing care to Covid positive people, we are working with the Family Physician Association to develop a toolkit. We are working on a similar toolkit for geriatric care at home. All these resources and toolkits have been developed by experts and are available on the platform for anyone to download.
On learnings and insights…
There is a lot of uncertainty. No one knows where we are headed or what the outcome of the response we are working on will be. There is a huge information overload. It is becoming a challenge to segregate the scientific from the hearsay, the right from the wrong and the verified from the unverified. It has become critical to cut through the noise and offer practical and verified solutions.
There are many lessons we are learning from this crisis. This outbreak has highlighted our unpreparedness to deal with an outbreak or calamity of such an extent. Not even our “smart cities” are ready to respond. Today it is covid, tomorrow it could be something else – bioterrorism or poisoning of our waterways. We are not ready to tackle such situations. This is something that we need to work on.
That said, in our fight against COVID-19 or any other future disaster for that matter, we must not overlook the learnings and resources built during previous emergencies. There are many resources developed for other humanitarian calamities which are also relevant to COVID-19. For example, I find the Spear Guidelines, which is used for humanitarian emergencies, very helpful in this situation as well. We must make complete use of these resources.
A parting note…
If you are an individual or an organization who is interested in doing something about the COVID-19 response, let us join hands – join the Covid Action Collab, or any other Collaborative of your choice. Unless we join hands and pool all our resources and expertise we will not be able to make a dent.
About Shiv Kumar
Founding Director, The Catalyst Group & Chief Mentor, Swasti Health Catalyst.
Shiv has over two decades of experience in institution building and social impact, in India and globally. Currently he is leading a system innovation effort, Invest for Wellness, to change the way healthcare is envisioned and delivered in India at scale, with a clear focus on reaching the unreached.
His experience in creating health impact solutions for the marginalised communities and keen desire to change the way healthcare is envisioned and delivered in India, paved the path for him to become a part of the global efforts in finding solutions to manage the impact of Covid-19 through Covid Action Collab.