The World Health Organization WHO declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020. Now a pandemic, COVID-19 has wide-reaching, profound implications on population health and wellbeing, health systems and national economies around the world, including Tanzania, where the number of cases and deaths continue to rise. In order to respond to growing COVID-19 related queries from the public, the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children (MoHCDGEC) activated a hotline during the second half of March 2020.
The volume of calls of the hotline, which was initially equipped with only a few operators and two phone lines, soon exceeded its response capacities, answering less than 10% of all incoming calls. To address the overloaded hotline, the Swiss-funded Health Promotion and System Strengthening (HPSS) project, implemented by Swiss TPH, made its communication and information technology expertise immediately available to the MoHCDGEC.
The HPSS project supports the Government of Tanzania with IT capacity building for the national basic health insurance, the ‘Improved Community Health Fund’. Its expertise, jointly with DFID-funded IMMA Health and the UNFPA, allowed to expand the hotline’s infrastructure from six operators to 120, tripling the number of calls received by operators. The modern technology installed also allows the hotline to connect with stations in other cities across Tanzania.
The HPSS project also works with the health promotion units of the Ministries of Health in Zanzibar and Mainland Tanzania to make communities more aware of the COVID-19 pandemic through community radio broadcasts and dissemination of information material. The COVID-19 response activities covered by the HPSS project are financed by rapid reprogramming of USD 200,000 operational funds of the project.
“Our ability to rapidly reprogramme existing financing into the emergency response enabled us to produce visible results in a very short timeframe,” said Leo Näscher, the Charge d’Affaires of Switzerland to Tanzania. “The longstanding partnership with the highly experienced Swiss TPH has allowed the Embassy to quickly deploy funds to fight COVID-19 in Tanzania.”
“Thanks to the existing and productive partnership with various stakeholders in Tanzania and our deep engagement in the country’s health sector, we were able to jointly address shortcomings with locally effective and relevant solutions”, said Jürg Utzinger, Director of Swiss TPH. “The incredible dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic calls for rapid public health responses that are readily tailored to the local situation. I am delighted how the HPSS project stepped in without delay”, emphasized Utzinger.