COVID-19 Issue Areas
COVID-19 response plans include several specific issue areas. For the purposes of this discussion paper we have grouped them into several categories.
To date prevention measures have relied on access to health supplies such as hand sanitizer and washing stations; social distancing or quarantine; and education and sensitization about prevention measures.
To support prevention measures, many organizations have:
Shut operations that could not meet social distance or quarantine requirements.
Made changes to work schedules or moved to remote work in order to limit physical interactions between employees. Some organizations that have maintained operations have made changes to lunch times, increased rest periods or staggered staff arrival.
Used their supply chains and facilities to deliver hand sanitizer or set up washing stations.
Promoted education about social distances and quarantine with employees and community members.
Many organizations have challenges or question related to prevention. What does social distancing look like in densely populated communities with limited water access? Should organizations be promoting use of basic surgical masks for asymptomatic people? What guidance about effective prevention measures should organizations follow? How do we maintain quality control when things are moving so quickly? For example, how do we ensure hand sanitizer is adequate?
The Center for Global Development has noted that limited resources in Low and Middle Income Countries should focus on effective and relevant prevention methods such as access to water and sanitation, targeted testing and data collection.
Community Awareness and Education
Many mining companies and NGOs have noted the importance of education (also known as sensitization) and sharing reliable information about COVID-19.
The Center for Global Development has recommended that the WHO, regional health bodies develop more targeted guidance for these contexts.
NGOs and mining companies can play an important role in delivering these materials and taking a train-the-trainer approach to equip health and community workers with the right information.
Amref Health Africa has developed guidance and training that is specific for communities living in East Africa. (Amref Health Africa, 2020) In addition, women require targeted access to information on COVID-19.
Care has noted the importance of providing information about COVID-19 in ways that take into account differing literacy rates amongst women and men, and their different levels of access to mobile phones.
In some regions testing has driven an effective response to COVID-19 because it allows governments to target resources as well as quarantine and isolation requirements. There are a few examples of organizations supporting increased testing.
Newmont Ghana announced a US$100,000 support package for Ghana’s public health efforts with a focus on two testing centers in Accra and Kumasi, as well as preventive measures in and around its Ahafo and Akyem mines and the Ahafo North Project area.
Many survey respondents noted that testing should be a priority. Where and when testing becomes more available mining companies and NGOs can play an essential role in organizing and providing logistics to provide mass testing, especially in remote areas.
Equal distribution of a vaccine will also play a significant role in containing the spread of the virus. Success will depend on equal distribution and delivery of a vaccine once it’s developed. A report in the Harvard Business Review underscored the importance of investing in the infrastructure for distributing a vaccine globally as soon as it is proven safe and effective, especially in low income countries or remote communities. NGOs and mining companies can contribute to equitable distribution in the regions where they operate by financing the purchase of vaccines, supporting health care systems to deliver the vaccine, identifying residents, leveraging data and strengthening supply chains.
Effective treatment of COVID-19 requires access to specific resources including isolated hospital beds, ventilators and PPE for health care workers. Most health care systems are quickly overwhelmed by the need and health care workers have had to prioritize treatment of some patients over others. Mining companies and NGOs can contribute to effective treatment by providing resources such as facilities to host temporary community health clinics; PPE, including face masks; and respirators.
Suncor has donated 40,000 N95 masks to the Canadian Federal Government, which directed them to communities in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.
Where it is expected that COVID-19 will lead to an increase in mortality rates, some mining companies and NGOs are planning to support socially appropriate funerals and burials that don’t present further health and safety risks.
Around the world health service organizations (both private and public) are developing new designs to protect health care workers who are treating COVID-19 patients. This includes face shields, tools for intubation and testing breathing capacity. Many of these interventions are very basic and relatively straightforward to reproduce. Health service organizations and technology companies are also developing mobile apps for educating as well as tracking information related to COVID-19. Some organizations have noted the potential to collaborate with health service organizations to share prototypes with health authorities in the regions where they operate and / or sponsor the development or delivery of innovative PPE.
An example of a health service organizations that is sharing prototypes is Canadian company Klick. You can find more on their COVID-19 website.
Vale has launched a “COVID-19 Challenge” offering $1 Million in cash prizes for companies in Canada and Brazil to bring innovative COVID-19 solutions to the marketplace with a focus on risk monitoring and prevention and patient monitoring.
Food access points are quickly becoming opportunities for transmission of the virus as well as opportunities to educate and sensitize communities. In addition, access to food has been and will continue to be impacted by disruptions to supply chains. Some companies in Southern Africa have provided grocery drop offs to communities to ensure access to food and limit movement/gathering of people. Some other organizations are re-purposing small scale commercial agricultural production for local food production. This is seasonally dependent but can also be part of a longer-term food security planning for regions that anticipate long term disruptions to food distribution.
There are several elements of shelter that are increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19 and make social distancing challenging. Overcrowding of dwelling is common around the world and often means that there are an increased number of elderly and other immunocompromised people that will be adversely impacted by COVID-19. Homelessness is also an issue that can lead to increased spread of COVID-19 with immunocompromised people. And finally, many low-income communities are extremely dense and have limited access to water and wash stations. This again makes social distancing and increased sanitation difficult. Many organizations are calling for more guidance and innovation on how to social distance and provide access to water stations in these environments. Some organizations have noted that providing isolation shelter to sick patients or immunocompromised populations can protect the most vulnerable.
Gender Based and Domestic Violence
In addition, requirements to stay home (amongst other things) have increased insistences of gender based and domestic violence. In some regions, government and organizations have focused on providing greater access to women’s and homeless shelters and other social services and to address these challenges.
The Center for Global Development has listed a number of other activities that NGOs and companies can support to limit violence against women and children.
Rio Tinto Iron Ore Company has worked with Hope Haven in Labrador to provide a furnished housing unit for the community of Labrador City and Wabush.
Reliable data related to COVID-19 cases (e.g. deaths, recovery’s) and tracing patient interaction is quickly becoming a central part of developing projections and limiting the spread of the virus. Accurate projections support preparation for treatment and informed response decisions. There are number of health care organizations and technology companies that are working on mobile apps and other data collection methods to track cases, patient symptoms, contacts and the impacts of COVID-19.
Amref Health Africa has developed a dashboard specific to COVID-19 in Africa.
Care and the International Rescue Committee recently completed a Rapid Gender Analysis on the impacts of COVID-19. The assessment uses secondary data collected between March 12 -20, 2020 and highlights the gendered impacts of COVID-19 prevention, treatment, impacts and decision making. One of the findings from the analysis is the importance of using sex and age disaggregated data.
Many organizations have also noted that how data is received, stored, and shared has many implications for its effectiveness. Data and contact tracing also presents many concerns related to privacy and other civil liberties.
The economic impacts of COVID-19 have and will continue to touch every element of the global economy. Where operations are suspended many unions have encouraged companies to continue to support workers through furlough or reduced wage programs. It is unclear which suspended operations have maintained wages for employees, or how employers have supported employees to access government emergency relief programs.
Many mining companies and NGOs are aware of the outsized impact on small and medium sized businesses. SMEs in mining supply chain are especially impacted because they can be seasonal; capital intensive and / or because they tend to be more cash flow sensitive. Companies and NGOs are looking for innovative ways to support these businesses including pre-payments for services; interest free loans; wage subsidies; support and guidance to apply for government programs; and encouraging other business to provide relief for SMEs (e.g. land lords, banks and mobile carriers).
The Center for Global Development recently noted that over 60% of the worlds work force participate in the ‘informal economy’ and 93% the world’s informal employment is in emerging and developing countries. Informal workers are not supported by work-from-home and wage subsidy programs and much less likely to stay at home during the pandemic. The CDG suggests cash transfers could be an effective measure to realistically support shelter-in-place and social-distancing efforts for those people who work in the informal economy. (Amanda Glassman, 2020)
People across the world are experiencing increased stress related to caring for patients, implementing social distancing / quarantine requirements, concerns about access to food and shelter, economic impacts and job loss, and increased instances of gender-based and domestic violence. Several organizations have been clear to provide employees access to mental health supports. Some organizations have also provided funding to support community access to mental health support (e.g. Kids Help Phone in Canada). Many organizations also pointed to the importance of being kind, empathic and checking in on colleagues and neighbours during this time.
COVID-19 responses, particularly social distancing / quarantine requirements and economic impacts are presenting significant stress to communities around the world. Where social cohesion is already fragile, many organizations are concerned that COVID-19 responses will lead to social disruptions including riots and violence. The sentiment that COVID-19 is a “disease of the wealthy” will also create tension in regions where there is significant wealth disparity.
Impacts on children
World Vision Canada noted that one of the key lessons learned form the Ebola crisis was the “accompanied spikes in abuse, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, child labour and various other forms of violence against girls and boys. The reasons for this increase in violence are many and well-documented. Children were left unaccompanied and separated from their parents and caregivers due to death, illness and hospitalization. The normal systems designed to keep children safe – whether child welfare structures or community-based mechanisms – were weakened. Quarantine measures made girls and boys more vulnerable. Child protection responses were either delayed or insufficiently integrated.”
To limit the spread of the virus, many regions and countries have instituted lock down or quarantine measures. Some regions have deployed the military and / police force to manage these quarantine requirements. This increases the opportunity for human rights abuses, by government authorities and / or security/military/police personnel. In addition, the growing reliance on effective data, the use of private health information and ‘contact tracing’ presents further opportunities for human rights abuses, including those related to privacy. Mining companies and NGOs have pointed to the importance of maintain and in some instances strengthening human rights programs. This can include key messages and training for security staff and leveraging relationships with governments to reinforce the organizations commitment to respecting human rights and governments responsibility to protect human rights.