How R4D is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for health systems, economies and overall human and socioeconomic conditions in many countries.

Governments and global partners often respond to a health crisis caused by an infectious disease by focusing solely on reducing transmission and mitigating the immediate effects of the disease. However, when health systems are overwhelmed or patients and health workers stay away from health facilities due to fear of transmission or lack of trust, mortality from other treatable conditions can also increase dramatically. Other health threats can become exacerbated as attention shifts to the outbreak response, and new threats can emerge.

In addition to the direct strain on health systems, the pandemic is putting stress on other sectors and systems as well. For example, 1.37 billion students have been affected by school and university closures, representing more than 3 out of 4 children and youth worldwide. The pandemic is also is also impacting food systems and is driving up food insecurity and malnutrition around the world.

A systems-focused multi-sectoral response to the pandemic is imperative. And a highly effective response has potential to leave aspects of health and education systems stronger in the future.

How R4D is positioned to help:

R4D brings a combination of technical expertise and approaches to engagement at the country, regional and global level to effectively support a systems-focused multi-sectoral response to the pandemic.

R4D is well-placed to engage with country stakeholders, with locally-hired staff in nine countries in Africa and Asia (Benin, Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tanzania) that are well connected to Ministry of Health officials and other key stakeholders. R4D also has built strong partnerships with regional and country institutions that are the go-to source of health system strengthening support for their countries and/or regions.

R4D is supporting the COVID-19 response in four ways:

Providing direct support to country change agents


We support change agents to translate knowledge, adapt innovations, and build institutions and processes to solve system challenges. Due to the pandemic and the inability to work alongside change agents in every instance, R4D is embracing approaches such as virtual co-creation. R4D is also working with local and regional experts to support change agents through the coaching approach.

  • In Ghana, R4D’s Health Systems Strengthening Accelerator is supporting the Office of the Presidential Coordinator on COVID-19 to coordinate the national response across all relevant sectors, levels of the health system, and partners. R4D is helping the government identify and connect with local, and international experts, to develop contextually appropriate approaches for testing, quarantine, treatment, social distancing, risk communications and command structures. The team is also working with the University of Ghana to develop dashboards to provide real-time insights for Ghana’s Presidential Coordinator. The program’s support is helping Ghana determine its own approach to the pandemic, and will help prepare the country to deal with future health emergencies and disease surveillance efforts.
  • Through our African Collaborative for Health Financing Solutions (ACS) project, R4D is supporting local CSO partner Réseau Accès aux Médicaments Essentiels (RAME) with its COVID response in Burkina Faso. RAME brought together a small group CSO leaders and all agreed that a coordinated response was needed and helped to launch a social campaign dubbed “Communities get rid of COVID-19” (COMVID COVID-19), which put out a call for help and quickly mobilized a network of 300 civil society organizations, representing many different sectors. The group has created committees to spearhead activities in the 52 sectors (similar to districts) in Ouagadougou. These activities range from disseminating accurate information to distributing face masks and handwashing stations. The group has also been involved in distributing food and advocating for the government to clarify its position on masks. Another R4D partner in Burkina (RESAD) is documenting the experience to share with others. (The photo above, courtesy of RAME, features members of COMVID COVID-19.)
  • In Ethiopia, R4D is playing a lead role in the Ethiopian Pharmaceutical Supply Agency’s (EPSA) COVID-19 Supply Chain Response Coordination Taskforce, to ensure that critical commodities for COVID-19 and essential health services are available where they are needed, despite a range of global supply chain, governance and operational risks. Under the umbrella of R4D’s Market Shaping Capacity Improvement Project, R4D has worked with EPSA and other partners to assess and analyze gaps and risks related to EPSA’s supply chain COVID-19 response efforts, as well as the overall risk COVID-19 has on the routine supply chain system, and to develop a new “Pharmaceuticals Supply Chain Guidelines for the Management of COVID-19 and Maintaining Essential Health Services in Ethiopia” that was tailored to the identified specific risks. The guideline helped the EPSA leadership to improve response performance, mitigation strategies, coordination structures and communication mechanisms. Following the development of the COVID-19 supply risk mitigation guideline, EPSA and R4D convened key stakeholders in a workshop to identify essential medicines in the revolving drug fund category at risk of stockout, or slow moving because of COVID-19 impact. R4D supported EPSA in the subsequent revision of the quantification and procurement plan, and prioritization of the essential medicines that need immediate action to fast track their procurement process to mitigate stockout risks. R4D is also providing ongoing technical assistance to EPSA on areas such as market shortcomings diagnostics, procurement improvements, and increase of supply from international and local manufacturers — and determining how this can be most impactful in the context of COVID-19.
  • In Tanzania, R4D is mobilizing financial and market shaping technical resources to support government-led efforts to address respiratory conditions. As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded, R4D worked with a key donor to increase financing support for procurement of amoxicillin dispersible tablets (the first line treatment for child pneumonia) in order to expand the government’s fiscal space for the pandemic response. R4D also pivoted from conducting an in-person survey to leveraging remote modalities to understand trends around the availability and stocking of amoxicillin dispersible tablets and other essential medicines at frontline public health facilities. In order to support the government’s analysis of their needs for a comprehensive COVID-19 response, R4D has also curated and shared evidence from a public health facility survey we conducted in 2017 on Tanzania’s capacity for oxygen treatment, highlighting gaps in the availability of diagnostics and treatment modalities, as well as training and human resource needs.
  • As the Guinean government rolled out their COVID-19 response plan, community health services slowed throughout the country. Meanwhile, the government has continued to roll out its National Community Health Strategy in the midst of the pandemic. Through the USAID-funded RF MERL partnered with Jhpiego to conduct remote data collection and analysis (through phone-based interviews with community health workers and other health system stakeholders) to determine the degree to which Guinean community health workers are trained and equipped to support the roll-out of the strategy, particularly in the COVID-19 context. Through a highly participatory “Learning Check” with representation from USAID, bilateral organizations, local and international NGOs, and government stakeholders, RF MERL facilitated in-depth discussion on how to interpret and use the findings from this engagement to support ongoing efforts to strengthen the health system in Guinea as it works to manage current and future health crises.
  • Civil society, media and other partners around the world are facing challenges related to their freedom to report, to act, and to support human rights as the covid-19 pandemic is being used as a tool by governments to restrict civil liberties and civic space. Through the Illuminating New Solutions and Programmatic Innovations for Resilient Space (INSPIRES) project, R4D is leading evaluation and learning to understand what strategies for protecting and enhancing civic space in these difficult times work best. R4D is conducting data collection and analysis activities and learning checks with partners to assess programming such as analyzing laws related to anti-money laundering efforts, providing media outlets with training on virtual and covid-specific reporting, and undertaking capacity building with CSOs around the world to better protect themselves from the shocks related to the pandemic. The project is currently supporting and analyzing activities in thirty-two countries and plans to expand this work in the coming months.

Acting as evidence and innovation brokers and aggregators


We build knowledge about the “how-to” of systems change, including innovations that can accelerate progress, in countries, with emphasis on getting that knowledge into practice.

  • Ensuring that health systems are resilient and can maintain essential health services is critical during the pandemic. R4D is leading an effort to identify the most pressing challenges health systems are facing in maintaining essential health services and source innovations to address them. This is part of the COVIDaction, an initiative funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, that is working to build a technology and innovation pipeline to support action related to the COVID pandemic. In 2020, COVIDaction issued several open calls on a range of topics such as local innovations to address COVID response needs such as PPE and on the role of technology in building more resilient health systems in Africa and South Asia (see more about our winners here). Our latest call seeks proposals to use data to inform vaccine prioritization. Find out more here.
  • Global Innovation Exchange (GIE) has launched the COVID-19 Innovation Hub, which features innovations, funding, and resources relevant for a country’s COVID-19 response and recovery around the world. The innovations listed on this new platform are grouped under 12 categories, including innovations ready to deploy and innovations that could be adapted for COVID-19 or inspire new much-needed solutions. As the list of innovations continues to grow (with nearly 500 so far), GIE also invites partners to work with us on co-creating cheat sheets that curate the most promising innovations for specific categories, sectors or geographies. R4D manages the COVID-19 Innovation Hub — and the umbrella GIE platform it draws from — which is supported by USAID, DFAT and KOICA.
  • EdTech Hub — a global research program of R4D and other partners— is getting relevant evidence and practical solutions to ministry of education leaders who are grappling with school closures due to COVID-19. The Hub is documenting who’s doing what and what’s working; curating and sharing guidance on which strategies are best to deploy in a given context; and providing hands-on support to implement solutions that include education technology. To provide practical and timely support to education leaders, R4D launched the EdTech Hub’s “Helpdesk” feature where FCDO and World Bank education advisors can pose questions and quickly gain access to curated evidence and ideas. The Helpdesk also supports FCDO and World Bank users to coordinate with each other, and with other institutions, in their educational responses to COVID-19 at the country level. In May 2020, in an effort to surface new ideas, EdTech Hub partnered with mEducation Alliance and the Global Innovation Exchange (GIE) to issue a call for tech-focused ideas to respond to the learning emergency caused by COVID-19 school closures in low- and middle-income countries. Selected applicants are participating in virtual EdTech Pitch Days with a global network of potential funders, support in adapting and scaling in response to COVID-19, and connections for onward collaboration and funding.
  • As R4D also contributed to the development of breastfeeding information cards that will help health workers support breastfeeding with accurate information during the pandemic. The cards are available in four languages, address misinformation, and promote best practices such as hand washing and mask wearing. USAID’s Advancing Nutrition initiative is the agency’s flagship multi-sectoral nutrition project that provides technical support to the implementation of USAID’s “Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy 2014-2025” in the many countries where USAID works.

Facilitating cross-country sharing and learning


We develop networks and platforms that connect individuals and institutions to share, amplify and put into practice evidence on what works.

  • Six countries — Bahrain, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mongolia and Senegal — have come together to form the National Coordination of Pandemic Responses Collaborative to share experiences and learn from one another. The Collaborative is an initiative of the Joint Learning Network for Universal Health Coverage (JLN) and the Health Systems Strengthening Accelerator project. R4D facilitates the Collaborative in partnership with the Health Strategy and Delivery Foundation. To date, country teams have participated in a series of virtual events to discuss citizen compliance to public health measuresdata use in COVID responses, balancing economic pressures, communication approaches to promote behavior change at the community-level, and vaccine deployment. Now, several countries will receive focused peer-learning and coaching support to implement an action plan addressing a specific COVID coordination challenge they have faced.
  • In R4D’s role as the technical facilitator for the Joint Learning Network’s Primary Health Care (PHC) Financing and Payment collaborative sub-group, we brought together 19 JLN member countries to share learnings on various countries’ COVID-19 responses. As an effort to reflect on the insight gained into pandemic preparedness, we published a brief consolidating common lessons from six countries – Bangladesh, China, Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea – that have shared their best practices and experiences with the collaborative. While experiences are often contextual and unique to each country, progress can be made by ensuring that lessons and best practices are rapidly transferred across geographies to inform country response strategies and strengthen health systems to be more resilient and better prepared for the next crisis. Read the case studies here.
  • As the coordinator of the Learning Network for Countries in Transition (LNCT), a country-led network of 18 countries moving toward sustainable immunization programs, R4D and its partners are connecting countries with their peers and global experts to exchange challenges and good practices as they roll-out the COVID-19 vaccine to their populations and continue efforts to maintain routine immunization coverage in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. LNCT is using its virtual platform to bring member countries together to address challenges through webinars and discussion groups, its online discussion forum and blog, and a resource page dedicated to resources for COVID-19 response with a focus on national immunization program response. LNCT hosted a series of webinars focused on COVID-19, including a virtual discussion group for countries to share how they have adapted immunization activities in response to the pandemic, and webinars on behavioral strategies for generating demand for immunization during COVID-19, training health workers virtually during COVID-19, incremental costs of immunization during the COVID-19 pandemic, and COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the Euro region. LNCT has also collaborated with partner organizations to produce blogs focused on addressing COVID-19 challenges including blogs: How to Identify and Respond to the Disruption in Routine Immunization Services During the Global Pandemic; How to End a Pandemic: 5 Ways to Overcome Covid Vaccine Hesitancy; What Steps Can LNCT Countries Take to Secure Early Access to COVID-19 Vaccines?; and How to Maintain Routine Immunization During COVID-19? Experiences from Armenia, Georgia, and Uzbekistan. LNCT has also adapted previously planned activities in the areas of demand creation and addressing hesitancy and managing and financing immunization programs in decentralized contexts to incorporate the unique factors that are impacting vaccine demand and decentralization during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • As a technical partner of the PHCPI is collaborating with JLN to support two learning exchanges — Transforming the Health System to Prioritize PHC and Understanding and Utilizing Data in COVID-19 Response and Recovery among country government actors and other key stakeholders to respond to country members’ priority PHC challenges arising from the COVID crisis. Reflections and key themes from the collaborative problem-solving session are available on the PHCPI website. Through its digital community of practice with a focus on resilience and PHC, PHCPI offers members an opportunity to share information and resources on maintaining essential health services and leveraging the PHC system to combat COVID-19. All who are working to improve PHC measurement and improvement are invited to join the forum.
  • As the Secretariat for the International Development Innovation Alliance (IDIA), R4D facilitated a Gender & Innovation Working Group which embarked on a process to identify innovative approaches, partners and solutions to address gender-based violence (GBV). Under COVID-19 rates of GBV have increased, highlighting the urgent need to strengthen systems and approaches to address violence. This paper Innovating to Address Gender-Based Violence presents a collection of 60+ innovative practices to prevent and respond to GBV, including innovations in health, education, policy and services, among others. The collection draws from innovations from a range of bilateral, multilateral, philanthropic and civil society actors. It is meant to encourage further learning and serve as a call to action to develop stronger systems and to further refine, adapt and scale innovations that prevent GBV promote gender equality. In October of 2020, IDIA cohosted a webinar with GIZ engaging with more than 75 participants to discuss how we might learn from, take up, and build upon these meaningful innovations to address GBV.

Informing global policy and action


We conduct global analyses and assessments, and promote learning among international partners to better support country-led systems change.

  • R4D is part of the Standing Together for Nutrition consortium, which just published a study on the impacts of COVID-19 on childhood malnutrition and nutrition-related mortality that was featured in the Lancet. The analyses show dramatic impact for children: Child wasting is projected to increase more than 14% this year due to COVID-19. Wasting and reduced nutrition services will result in nearly 130K additional deaths in 2020 alone without immediate action. In September, the consortium also plans to publish impact estimates for all forms of undernutrition, together with a costed set of priority interventions, and estimates of the impact of the crisis on the donor and domestic financing landscape for nutrition (with R4D responsible for the latter set of analyses).
  • Through its work with Data for Decisions to Expand Nutrition Transformation (DataDENT) — an initiative that aims to transform the availability and use of nutrition data by addressing gaps in nutrition measurement and advocating for strong nutrition data systems — R4D is engaged with the Data for Nutrition community of practice (COP). The COP recently hosted a webinar, which highlighted key findings from R4D’s analysis of global nutrition data visualization tools and India-specific nutrition data visualization tools that may have important lessons for COVID-19 data tools.

Photo © RAME

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