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COVID-19 response: connecting mothers and families in rural Timor-Leste

A mobile application is helping mothers and their families living in remote and rural communities in Timor-Leste stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Liga Inan text messaging service has been used by ChildFund Timor-Leste to send reminders and information to mothers in hard-to-reach regions about maternal and child health. Now, it is being used to educate families about the deadly virus.

ChildFund Timor-Leste’s Health Project Coordinator Ninivia (pictured below), who is helping to adapt the service to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in vulnerable regions in Timor-Leste, says pregnant women and mothers who have registered for the platform are now receiving COVID-19 alerts on their phones.

The messages are about how to prevent the spread of the virus, and how to identify and treat symptoms, and are based on the advice and information distributed by Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation.

“Handwashing is the one of the main messages that has been sent out,” she says. “There are also messages about the importance of social and physical distancing, and how to identify the common symptoms of the virus. There are also messages focused on best practice for pregnant and lactating mothers during the COVID situation, like whether or not to continue breastfeeding if they are sick.”

Ninivia says she is worried about the spread of the virus in remote areas because Timor-Leste does not have the resources to cope with an outbreak.

“We don’t have enough equipment yet or enough facilities if the outbreak happens across the country,” she says. “It would be a huge challenge not only for the Ministry of Health, but also for the INGOs like ChildFund to support the government and communities in an outbreak. Health facilities in our country are quite limited, especially in rural communities.

“Even in metropolitan hospitals there is a lack of equipment like ventilators, so if an outbreak occurred in rural areas the communities there would struggle to find support.”

ChildFund Timor-Leste Health Project Co-ordinator, Ninivia, has been helping to implement a text messaging service to educate mothers and families in hard-to-reach regions about the COVID-19 virus.

While the number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 in Timor-Leste is still significantly less than the figures reported in neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Australia, which are in their thousands, Ninivia is worried that an outbreak could occur because of complacency.

“What I fear most is local transmission of COVID-19,” she says. “So far there are just over 20 cases. We have been able to identify where these people are and where they have been, and have been able to quarantine them, so it’s still manageable.

“But if there’s local transmission that would be a huge challenge. It’s Timorese culture to have very big families, and social connection is a huge thing for Timorese people. Even though messages of social or physical distancing have been disseminated, people are still coming together.

“It’s quite a big challenge for the government.”

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