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Fleet of bicycles help fight spread of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone
Bicycles are playing a vital role in spreading the message about Covid-19 prevention in Sierra Leone in West Africa.
Concern Worldwide has provided more than 100 bicycles to traditional healers and influential women with whom the Irish humanitarian organisation works, enabling them to reach more communities with information on how to stay safe from coronavirus.
“Traditional healers and influential women in Sierra Leone are often the first point of contact when someone becomes ill in a rural area, as access to medical and healthcare professionals is limited and they are well respected within their communities,” Andrew Tholley, project manager with Concern explained.
“Prior to receiving the bikes they would have had to walk to villages, sometimes covering distances of 20 kilometres on foot or paying for a motorcycle taxi from their own pocket,” he added.
The bike project was funded by Electric Aid - the ESB and EirGrid staff social justice and development fund.
Mr Tholley said the impact of the bicycles has been huge: “after two months we did a follow up to ask how the bicycles have helped and it’s quite amazing, some of them say that before they used to visit three villages a month, now they can visit six to seven.”
For the last three years Concern has worked with the traditional healers and influential women, all of whom are volunteers, to treat and prevent Malaria – one of the leading causes of illness and death in Sierra Leone - and provide ante and postnatal advice to women and children, referring serious cases to public health centres or hospital.
With the emergence of Covid-19, awareness campaigns around the virus were incorporated into the messaging shared with their communities and villages in Tonkolili District.
Among some cultures in Sierra Leone it’s considered taboo for women to ride bikes and the Concern team expected a reluctance from the influential women to get involved. However when the group were surveyed most of the female participants were eager to take part. Sixty per cent of the recipients of bicycles were women.
Adama T Barrie, one of the influential women who received a bike, said it has enabled her to visit more villages and has made it easier to attract an audience when she does: “As a woman riding a bicycle, it’s strange in our communities, it helps me get people’s attention and listen to me.”
More than half of the 200 traditional healers and influential women were provided with mountain and hybrid bikes, tools, and training on how to safely ride and care for their bikes by The Village Bicycle Project, which has, among other projects, provided bicycles to children to improve their access to education.
Karim Kamara, is their country manager and says “In Sierra Leone owning a bike is akin to owning a car, people aren’t even earning a dollar a day and bikes are expensive. Owning a bike is a symbol of respect, this programme has helped many lives.”
Mr Tholley says the long term aim behind the bikes is to ensure the Malaria and Covid-19 awareness project is sustainable. When it ends he hopes that the traditional healers and influential women will be encouraged to continue serve their communities.
“These bicycles are a constant reminder, for the rest of the life of that bicycle, that this bike was given to the recipient with a purpose to fight Malaria. They don’t own the bike, the community does. I only wish we had many bicycles to give all our participants because all of them are fantastic, they are doing a great job”, he said.
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