Indunas and ITEACH Combat COVID-19

Date: November 13, 2020 By:

The Ragon Institute’s ITEACH program is enlisting local leaders in South Africa’s rural communities to combat COVID-19

ITEACH (Integration of TB in Education and Care for HIV/AIDS), a Ragon Institute program in South Africa, is enlisting leadership within rural communities in the country’s KwaZulu-Natal province to counter a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By delivering COVID-19 workshops for indunas, local leaders who oversee gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and  traditional events, ITEACH is  promoting best practices for COVID-19 prevention. 

During the workshops, indunas gather in small, socially distanced groups, where the ITEACH team covers the basics of COVID-19, from transmission to symptoms and testing. The training calls on the leaders to addresses local challenges such as crowded living conditions, lack of running water, and reliance on public transportation; all factors that increase risk in rural communities. 

The work builds on the community-centered approach ITEACH has used for the past 15 years to improve HIV and TB care and treatment in health districts across the province. . 

 “For solutions to be effective locally, it’s important to engage locals in the design process,” says Krista Dong MD, a Ragon Institute faculty member who founded and leads the program

After attending one of the workshops, Qondumuzi Alban Ngcobo, an induna from the Nzondweni area remarked:  “This training has opened up my eyes to practical information I can take back to my community.” 

While U.S.-based investigators at the Ragon Institute have been focused on developing a COVID-19 vaccine, their colleagues in South Africa have been working to ensure that communities embrace proven prevention measures and will be accepting of a vaccine when it becomes available.   

“In my mind, it is always about translation of research, about making a difference in people’s lives,” says Dr. Bruce Walker, director of Ragon Institute. “At the end of the day, we have measures that are nearly as good as a vaccine, like social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing. If we can get that message across, it can have a huge impact.”

As Sandile Hlongwane, ITEACH’s outreach coordinator says, “The local leaders are powerful allies in this fight.”

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