Experience Sharing Program of the “Coronavirus Resilient Villages” (CRV) Initiative

Welcome by Badiul Alam Majumdar, Country Director for The Hunger Project (and moderator for this program). 

Welcome to the experience sharing meeting on the Coronavirus Resilient Villages (CRV) initiative. Nearly 500 of our volunteers from all over the country have joined today’s event. Quite a few experts from different disciplines have also joined us.

In April 2020, we initiated our CRV initiative in 1200 villages around the country during the outbreak of the pandemic. The Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), Canadian High Commission, and some of our partners in Australia and the Netherlands supported this initiative. 

The purpose of this volunteer-driven, community-led initiative, with the participation of local government representatives, is to empower the leadership of the villagers and change their behavior to contain the spread of the virus at the local level. While supporting this initiative we sought to implement the WHO guideline of “Risk Communication and Community Engagement”.

The CRV initiative has a four-step process: (1) Mobilizing the community and creating its ownership; (2) Creating awareness about risk and changing people’s behavior; (3) Patient management; and (4) Supporting those who are in financial distress.

Breaking the chain of this highly contagious virus requires cure as well as prevention. We have attempted to prevent the spread of this invisible enemy in each village through the process of mobilizing people. This process is similar to the actions of our valiant freedom fighters in 1971,  who turned their villages into fortresses to defeat a visible enemy. Our intention is to foment a similar people’s war, or rather, a popular resistance that begins inside the villages.

Changing people’s behavior such as isolating those who are infected, quarantining those who are at risk of infection, and vaccinating individuals– are the means of preventing the spread of the virus to avoid a new wave of infection. We are trying to do such work in the villages.

The CRV initiative has already achieved some successes. For example, in our working area, more people are abiding by health regulations. The rate of mask wearing is double in our areas – nearly 60%. The number of deaths is also lower in our working area. 

In today’s meeting we will first share the process behind creating the Coronavirus Resilient Villages. After that we will listen to the experiences of our volunteers who have worked to spearhead this initiative, and later we will listen to the experts.  

I now request my colleague, Joyanta Kar to share our presentation on CRV.  

(Make the PowerPoint presentation)

Following are the opinions of distinguished experts:  

Taufique Joardar, Consultant, WHO 

I am really overwhelmed. While going through the WHO’s Risk Communication and Community Engagement guidelines, I wondered if we could adopt this in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is well recognized for its nationwide community network (social mobilization). However, we have questioned why we could not set a global example while using this network. It was a missed opportunity. But I am elated, inspired and energized by today’s discussion. It will be unfortunate if we fail to demonstrate this initiative to the world. This is an extraordinary, wonderful and unique initiative undertaken during a pandemic. You must document it. I have only one request: you must not deprive the world of its knowledge.

Dr. Abu Zamil Faisal, Public Health Specialist

It goes without saying that the CRV model is real, and it can be implemented. We now need to think of ways to apply it in urban areas. If we could apply it to an urban setting, it could really set an example. Let us use this experience to implement the model in cities. 

Dr. Mustuq Husain, Advisor, IEDCR 

The Hunger Project’s initiative to spread the health messages through local representatives is very impactful. People feel / are empowered if they receive messages from leadership as opposed to solely hearing what we say on TV. Messages from Union Parishad members and councilors are more effective. You have engaged the community to make people abide by the health regulations. Community engagement is needed to ensure that everyone is vaccinated, especially in the villages. Since not everyone is skilled in using modern technology, they must be helped with registration. 

Dr. Mahmudur Rahman, Former Director, IEDCR 

We should replicate this initiative in other places. Since we do not have enough rooms in hospitals for every patient, we must pay more attention to preventive measures. Despite the challenging environment in cities, I feel that this initiative can be replicated in smaller areas. 

Professor Nazrul Islam, Former Vice-Chancellor, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital 

Although it is called “Coronavirus Resilient Villages” initiative, it is a holistic and comprehensive program. If this initiative is implemented in every village of this country, then we can call our villages “golden villages”. If we can apply this effective program in cities, then we would be able to control the sources of infection. 

Dr. Abdur Rahman, Former Director, National Institute of Preventive and Social Medicine

This sharing will be most useful for all. Replication should not turn into duplication. Whenever we have a good program going, we make a mess trying to copy it. This must not be done. 

Dr. Be-Nazir Ahmed said, Former Director, IEDCR

My congratulations and hats off to those who are creating Coronavirus Resilient Villages. From my extensive experience of working in the public health sector, I can say that all of your activities are very valuable. The overall effect of your initiative is far-reaching. If we are unable to engage people, it will be difficult to win battles in the health sector. We have seen this deficiency. An administrative decision will not autocratically lead to its implementation. The work that is done by THP is the real work. If we could provide more manpower and resources, we would be more successful in containing the Coronavirus. If various entities assist them and if it is applied in cities, it will be good for us.

Prof Muzaherul Huq, Former adviser, WHO 

I want to express my greetings to everyone from your organization because their actions are a source of pride for the country.  The WHO has been saying from the beginning that the initiatives of community engagement and awareness creation can save us from this pandemic. Your project is an ideal initiative and can be a trailblazer for containing the virus. The government will have to learn how to work with this initiative and how to build a public-private partnership. I urge you to continue this initiative. 

Rashedul Islam said, DG, NGO Affairs Bureau

I salute those who are involved with this work. They are doing this work in an excellent manner. Your Hunger Project’s Coronavirus Resilient Villages is a wise initiative that must be commended. You have started an excellent initiative, for which I thank you. I express my gratitude. I like your involvement of the local administration, Union Parishads and communities in the initiative. Your approach is excellent. You are identifying those who have been under distress and assisting them. You are catalyzing resources through community mobilization (philanthropy) and combining those with available government resources in order to stand by the people which is very important. NGOs are not adversaries of the government but rather partners, big partners. The success of your project, which you presented, is a real example of that. I hope this will be a model for the whole world. The world community will follow this model to become corona-free. Bangladesh will become an excellent example.

Dr. Ahmed Mushtaque Reza Chowdhury, Bangladesh Health Watch

I have heard from your volunteers. You are doing an excellent job in an innovative way. I congratulate you for creating this unique example of community engagement. You are currently doing it in 1161 villages. The next step will be to upscale it. We must inform the world of the work we have done in Bangladesh. Its international dissemination is urgently needed. 

Shishir Moral, Journalist, Prothom Alo

The work of The Hunger Project and others, and the work of others who are doing similar work on a smaller scale, needs to be documented. It would be nice if Mushtaque Bhai can arrange, through WHO, an international experience sharing event that includes the experiences of India and Latin America. Lastly, I urge The Hunger Project to replicate, in any area of Dhaka, what they have done in the whole country. 

Mamunul Haque, UNICEF

Coronavirus Resilient Villages is an excellent initiative that is  rural-based and local government-based. We must initiate it in our cities. THP is an important player in the RCC pillar and their work is very important. I hope that we will be able to proceed well with the CRV initiative.