By Katurak Yashim
The Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN) says it has trained 700 health and social workers on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) mitigation and reproductive health services for rural communities across seven states.
Dr Abubakar Okai, the PPFN Acting Executive Director, said this at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Civil Society Organisation Engagement (CSOE) COVID-19 stakeholders’ assessment meeting on Wednesday in Abuja.
He noted that the COVID-19 pandemic compounded existing gender inequalities and increased the risks of GBV, including threatening access to essential sexual and reproductive health services and modern contraceptives.
Okai said that a project tagged “CSOE COVID-19 Response Project” was, therefore, launched in 2020 to support the rapid implementation of the Nigerian National Multi-sectoral Response Plan to COVID-19.
He said that the CSOE project initiated by the UNFPA aimed to also prevent the coronavirus pandemic from causing any setback on gains made in the provision of these services in rural areas.
“This meeting was held to assess the impact the CSOE project has had in the target communities, how community members are benefitting, and areas for improvement.
“We are implementing this project in seven states; namely Borno, Kaduna, Kano, Gombe, Sokoto, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
“The purpose of this project is to try to sustain efforts at ensuring access to reproductive health services and GBV, and to ensure that the onset of COVID-19 does not cause a setback on gains so far achieved.
“During the first phase of the project which lasted between June 1, 2020, to June 31, 2021, we trained at least 700 health and social workers and introduced an application known as ‘TEXT4LIFE’.
“This application enables community members to access the closest Primary Healthcare Centre (PHC) near them to report cases of abuse or other health emergencies and access help,” he stated.
Okai explained that when the application is downloaded on a device, the code ‘347161#’ can be dialed during any emergency, and a response will be received with information about the nearest primary healthcare centre.
The acting executive director said: “We are working to ensure that this project is sustained and that it can be scaled up to other states within the federation.”
Okai stated that the project has been integrated into the organisation’s services and would run for the next three years.
Mr Fatigun Olusegun, the United Nations (UN) Coordinator for the FCT, said that the project was initiated when the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria began to affect access to health services in rural communities.
“The pandemic and resultant effect on healthcare access forced the UNFPA to channel funds towards addressing the rising cases of GBV and ensure that access to reproductive services for women is not affected in rural areas.
“This project is being carried out by the Federal Government in collaboration with the UNFPA and implemented by PPFN.
“The aim is to carry out grassroots sexual and reproductive health, GBV interventions in local communities using the local area councils and the PHCs, ” he said.
Olusegun said that the project was undertaken using Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), hence the event was to review progress made so far and the way forward.
According to him, everything is geared towards curbing the spread of COVID-19 and cases of GBV, which was reported to have been on the rise during the lockdown.
“Community members were sensitised on reporting channels and how to utilise them. The local authorities and PHCs were trained on how to handle reported cases.
“The PHCs are the closest to the people and so these centres must be equipped to address health issues emanating from the communities,” said the official.
Mrs Dolly Obaje, a nurse and midwife working at the Barangoni PHC, Bwari Area Council, Abuja, said that the training has not only improved their capacity to respond to the health needs of the community, but also enabled the provision of medical materials needed at the centre.
“In my facility, we ran out of face masks, sanitisers and other equipment needed at the centre. The project facilitated the distribution of these items to the centre which has enabled community members to be able to access them.
“After our training, we returned to our facility and set up a committee where cases reported to us will be referred to the community leaders and from there to the area council so that it can be tackled,” she explained.
Obaje said that although the project has supported the centre in preventing maternal deaths and infection, insecurity around the community prevents the community from recording tangible progress in mitigating the occurrence of GBV.
“The major issue that hinders the better success of the project however is insecurity. My community shares boundary with Kaduna State and the FCT, and most cases of GBV occurs at night.
“Sometimes when cases are reported at night I am unable to go out to attend to the patient due to security concerns, and in such situations we refer the person to the community focal person.”
Mrs Aishatu Babankudi, a nurse and midwife at the Lugbe, PHC, Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), said that the community has most benefited from the ‘TEXT4LIFE’ application introduced by the project.
“The major achievement the project has had in my community is the introduction of the ‘TEXT4LIFE’.
“Reporting GBV has been a challenge for community members and all we can do is to document the cases on paper and provide counseling and the case is taken to the police where it ends.
“TEXT4LIFE, however, allows us to report these cases when they occur and get a response. The project coordinators take action when they receive reports and ensure the cases are solved promptly and in the right way.
“Community sensitisation on speaking out when GBV occurs is also yielding results. Mothers are speaking out when their children are abused; they no longer keep silent due to fear of retaliation, ” she said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the project also facilitated the distribution of dignity and rape kits to survivors of GBV and other vulnerable women. (NAN)