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Center Adjusts for Pandemic, Keeps Programs Working

  • Regina Lotubai Lomare Lochilangole is a social mobilizer, educating her fellow South Sudanese about preventing Guinea worm disease. Although foreign staff had to leave South Sudan and other countries due to the coronavirus pandemic, community work could continue with safety protocols in place.

  • Domestic violence has spiked in many places since COVID-19 lockdowns began. The Carter Center is helping governments and agencies in several countries spread information about the problem and how to get help. This leaflet is from Liberia.

  • Before the pandemic, The Carter Center provided radio messages in Niger about hygiene practices that would help prevent trachoma, a bacterial eye disease. Now, these same channels include COVID-19 health messages.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought tough challenges around the world, The Carter Center continues to find ways to wage peace, fight disease, and build hope.

The Center took a prudent pause in most field operations to ensure the safety of staff, local volunteer partners, and their communities. Despite the interruption, the Center was never still. Leadership and staff set to work applying the Center’s expertise and resources to help partners across the world address new obstacles resulting from the pandemic.

“These challenges really provide us some opportunities,” said Carter Center CEO Paige Alexander. “We’re at a pivotal time.”

In one example of a pandemic pivot, the Center’s Human Rights Program quickly responded to a spike in quarantine-related domestic and gender-based violence in Liberia by partnering with government ministries to raise public awareness about resources and reporting procedures. Initiatives included announcements and guest appearances on radio programs, mass text messaging, and discussions with traditional chiefs, town criers, and officials in the justice system.

The Center’s mental health team in Liberia ensured mental health and psychosocial services were a standard part of managing COVID-19 cases. The team has also supported contact tracer and mental health training, deployed clinicians, and worked with the Mental Health Reporters Network to share information with communities.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, the Carter Center’s global mental health team is helping lead with incident management and mental health services while forging ahead to help strengthen the existing mental health system as much as possible,” said Janice Cooper, the Center’s senior program advisor in Liberia.

Similarly, the Center’s Democracy Program provided support for a play, an art show, TV and radio spots, short films, and other public awareness efforts initiated by partner organizations addressing lockdownrelated domestic violence in Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Domestically, journalists involved in the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism have been documenting the toll exacted by illness, grief, and isolation associated with the pandemic and interviewing experts offering suggestions for ways to cope.

In addition to addressing domestic violence and mental health, The Carter Center is also using its existing networks to provide information and correct common misconceptions as part of their daily routine, so those efforts never stopped. Carter Center foreign staff had to pull out, though, slowing down field research. Fortunately, in September, technical advisors—Center staffers who reside near villages and serve as Guinea worm prevention guides and mentors—started returning to the field in such places as Chad and South Sudan.

In another sign of edging back toward normal operations, the Center’s Democracy Program is undertaking an election observation mission in Myanmar, albeit without international personnel. The mission, conducted exclusively by Myanmar nationals, will assess electoral preparations and the electoral environment, the impact of COVID-19 on the electoral process, and other issues.

In addition, the Center is participating in an international mission to observe the upcoming presidential and legislative elections in Côte d’Ivoire.