SEPALI team prepares new workshop
On Friday, March 20th, the Madagascar government confirmed 3 cases of COVID-19. The government declared a public health emergency, suspended all international flights for 30 days, shut down schools and social gatherings, and asked residents to take standard COVID-19 precautions. The outbreak is believed to be limited to central Madagascar at this time (Tana and Toamasina), but as trends in other countries have shown, the highly infectious disease is difficult to contain.
The SEPALI project is located in the northeast corner of Madagascar where no cases have been documented as of yet, but the team is preemptively jumping into action. Mamy and Lalaina, SEPALI directors in Maroantsetra held a meeting on the 23rd to brief the team on the situation and teach recommended precautions to staff and artisans. The team used their last day in the office to make homemade masks on the sewing machines and the workshop was shut down for the week, to be re-evaluated on a weekly basis.
One of the major challenges in Madagascar and especially in the area where the SEPALI project operates is that most livelihoods are based on subsistence, daily hand-to-mouth transactions. With food insecurity as a constant pressure, the feasibility of staying home is limited. SEPALI team members are no exception and expressed their desire to return to work. In response to the team, Mamy and Lalaina designed a system to maximize protection while staying sensitive to the evolving situation in Maroantsetra.
Mamy and Lalaina spent the past week preparing the workshop to offer the best protection possible. They rented a second house next door, doubling the space of the SEPALI workshop. They designed areas for hand washing and stocked supplies of soap and disinfectant. They ordered uniforms for the artisans to change into on arrival and set up separate sewing stations, 3 meters (9 feet) apart.
Team members returned this week, adhering to all new precautions and social distancing. Each have their own homemade masks as well and the equipment is cleaned daily. Family members are no longer allowed to visit the office. The workshop will temporarily remain open in this limited capacity unless new recommendations from the government, a safety concern or a case of COVID-19 is found or suspected in Maroantsetra. At that time, the office will be closed indefinitely.
Meanwhile, the situation in the capital region continues to evolve. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has grown to 45 as of yesterday, mostly traced from international flights prior to the travel ban. National travel bans are being enforced as well. There does appear to be some early data that suggests that the disease spreads slower in humid, tropical environments, but everything else about the situation in Madagascar including infrastructure, healthcare availability and feasibility of social distancing makes the country especially vulnerable to this disease.
We will continue to keep you updated as the situation evolves, and we will do everything we can to keep our team safe and do our part to combat this global health emergency. Thank you for your support.
Team makes their own masks before outbreak