The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

COVID-19 Awareness in Kiribati: A Multi-Level Partnership

The Kiribati Health Champions raising awareness of COVID-19.

When the COVID-19 coronavirus reached pandemic status, Kiribati closed its borders and started preparations for a COVID awareness programme. The Kiribati Health Champions (KHC) – a programme funded by a partnership between MFAT and Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand and implemented by Teitoiningaina (the Catholic Women’s Association) – immediately offered its core group of active Health Champions to raise awareness in the communities of South Tarawa, a community with a population of approximately 70,000 people in 6063 households.

Unfortunately, due to the closure of borders, Teitoiningaina Director Ioanna Taraia and Kiribati Health Champions Project Manager Aneta Moses were trapped in Fiji. However, Finance Officer Tibeera Kautuuna and Assistant Ziita Remi stepped up to manage this COVID awareness project. In less than 24 hours they were able to organise 31 Health Champions who were trained under the KHC programme and had become experienced, highly skilled nutrition communicators to carry out the important work of raising awareness in the community. They were briefed by the Public Health Department and provided with Kiribati handouts, posters and careful messages including demonstrations on proper hand-washing techniques and social distancing recommendations.

Ziita Remi and Tibeera Kautuuna manage the COVID-19 project with the Kiribati Health Champions.

In their first week, 15 teams visited over 275 households for around 30 minutes each. Families were provided with brochures with proper handwashing techniques and distancing guidelines and they were given time to have any questions answered.

With the demand so high, the number of houses so large and the commitment so great, the Health Champions worked right through Easter. The response from the Director of Public Health was very positive:

“Please extend our sincere gratitude and appreciation to your Health Champions who have assisted in such delivery of information and updates to the community.”

Eretii Timeon, Director of Public Health

And again, a few days later:

"Allow me to express the MHMS sincere gratitude for the great support and assistance from the Kiribati Health Champions to partake in this community outreach for COVID-19 to avoid confusion and most importantly fear and panic.”

Mweritonga, Coordinator of the Ministry of Health COVID Risk Committee

A handwashing technique brochure handed out by the Health Champions
A handwashing technique brochure handed out by the Health Champions.

At the end of their second week, the original 15 Health Champions had reached 791 households - just under 14% of the entire South Tarawa population!

Although this was an outstanding achievement, this was still not fast enough. With demand still high and six weeks of work ahead, the KHC programme doubled their numbers with the help of “Junior Health Champions." A total of 31 programme graduates, all who have been trained but who have limited experience in delivery, were teamed up with a Health Champion and began their work in the third week. We expect that 1500 households will be covered per week from now on.

Health Champions deliver brochures and materials to the families in South Tarawa.

ChildFund, also funded through the Partnerships Funds, have been invaluable in helping the initial coordination and feedback as the KHC COVID awareness programme started up. They are doing similar work in Betio, one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

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Tutu ana te puehu - Stirring up the dust