Providing world-class vehicle management and healthcare mobilisation services to African nations, Riders were on the front line as the nations we work in responded to the outbreak COVID-19.
In early 2020 fears mounted that the COVID pandemic could result in huge fatalities across Africa. Throughout the year Riders were able to provide governments and health organisations in the countries where we operate, with transport services essential to delivering operations to minimise the effects of the disease. Fast and accurate test results as well as community care and education are essential to tackling the spread of many diseases and Covid-19 is no exception.
But it was also business as usual, as Riders continued to support the delivery of core services even with some offices shut and some staff working from home. We continued to maintain vehicles and mobilise community health workers to carry out primary health care and disease prevention, sample couriers to transport biological samples and test results for speedy diagnosis of killer diseases such as TB, HIV and Malaria.
We continued our ongoing digital update, creating a new website to share our work with the global development community and advancing our roll-out of new data collection and analysis tools to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our service.
The Riders Malawi programme pivoted quickly to deal with COVID-19, adding the transport of samples and test results for COVID-19 to our usual work of providing the government and health organisations with courier services for HIV AIDs and TB.
We also mobilised health workers to inform and educate communities, hugely important in curbing the spread of the pandemic, and added urgently needed hospital transfers and medical waste disposal to the services we provide the government.
The additional costs and workload the pandemic included additional visits to communities, protective clothing for staff and the cost of upgrading our sample transport kit with cooler boxes, ice packs and temperature trackers.
But while we had some issues with capacity at the peak we are pleased to say that by the end of the year we have over-delivered on our usual services, transporting more than the average number of HIV test results as well as successfully delivering a range of new services to the government to help them in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Riders for Health The Gambia mobilises the country’s health workers using motorcycles and four-wheel vehicles, allowing the Ministry of Health to reach every corner of our country with services like antenatal services, childhood immunisations, Leprosy and TB outreach and elderly care.
With the outbreak of COVID-19 our countrywide coverage meant that we were able to support healthcare providers with collection of samples, evacuating COVID-19 patients to treatment centers, contact tracing services and public health education about the importance of hand washing and social distancing to prevent the spread of this incredibly contagious disease.
Starting the year on a high with advanced rider training from Dougie Lampkin MBE, for our sample transporters, little did we know what the year ahead would bring.
A much needed revitalisation of our systems and workshop began in the spring. Gambian
colleague Lamin Nicol joined us to refurbish a fleet of 15 motorcycles and update our staff
training and systems to ensure we could continue to operate at Riders’ high standards. In March
donors provided two ambulances & eight new Suzuki DL125 motorcycles to deliver biological
samples including HIV and COVID-19 and test results to the Lesotho programme.
By early summer COVID-19 had begun to impact us significantly. COVID lockdowns meant that
office staff worked from home for a long period of the year. As businesses supplying replacement parts and tyres were closed down delays were experienced in vehicle and bike maintenance. Some vehicles had to be taken out of service, affecting the delivery of health services.
Albeit more slowly than planned before the pandemic hit, our rollout of new data capture and
analysis technology continued throughout a number of districts, with more planned for 2021.
The Lesotho programme received financial support from the Canadian High Commission in
South Africa which allowed the ministry of health to prepare and improve their response to the outbreak especially Quthing district. They were also able to conduct a wide range of activities ranging from contact tracing, training of health personnel at all levels in the district as well as coordination of efforts by other stakeholders.
The health teams were mobilised to intensify screening at points of entry (both legal and illegal crossings), quarantine facilities as well as at community level. This support continues until end of February 2021.
The British High Commission in Lesotho supported Riders with the procurement of additional equipment for sample transportation including top boxes for the bikes and cooler bags.
Support from other partners like Project Management Unit (Global Fund), CDC and The
Ministry of Health ensured that sample transport services, emergency referrals and community outreach services continued without interruption.
Through the support of fundraising partner Two Wheels for Life, Riders received two ambulances in 2020 to support the busiest and hardest-to-reach health centers with 24 hr emergency referral for patients in need of greater care.
In Nigeria, Riders for Health joined the collective fight against the coronavirus pandemic facilitating the movement of COVID-19 samples for many health agencies.
Our COVID-19 sample transportation service moved 527 samples between May and August from collection points to the PCR laboratory in Kano State, contracted by the National Integrated Specimen Referral Network. In November the service was expanded through the National Youth Service Orientation Programme to cover an additional 10 states: Anambra, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Kaduna, Lagos, Niger, Ondo, Plateau and Zamfara.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, in collaboration with the Institute of Human Virology also contracted us to transport COVID-19 samples from collection points in Nasarawa State. Since the service started in December 2020 we have transported 813 samples for diagnostic testing.
Our COVID-19 sample transport service has now moved over two thousand samples across 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states. We are positioned for nation-wide expansion.
Riders provided our couriers with necessary personal protective equipment and trained them to adhere to recommended infection prevention and control measures.
In 2020, Riders for Health has taken on new challenges absorbing the demands of COVID-19 as well as continuing to mobilise health workers to give access to basic community healthcare and services.
Thankfully the reported COVID-19 death rate per capita across Africa has been low compared with other parts of the world. WHO and other experts suspect factors such as the relatively young population, expertise in epidemic control from tackling other outbreaks, cross-immunity from other coronaviruses, low travel and outdoor living have contributed to this.
But the danger is not over. Health services have been weakened by the financial and other pressures that the pandemic has put on already stretched services and Africa’s population is extremely vulnerable. As COVID-19 vaccines are released we will ensure that governments and health agencies can reach people in rural areas along with the care, education and health services needed to ensure people don’t die unnecessarily due to lack of transport.
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