Contact tracing, a new approach, a new experience

Lok Maya Thapa is the focal person for the Comprehensive Community-Based Health Program in the Khotang District for the Nepal Red Cross Society, she recently shared with us her experiences working during COVID-19.
Lok Maya Thapa is the focal person for the Comprehensive Community-Based Health Program in the Khotang District for the Nepal Red Cross SocietyI’ve worked in the NRCS Khotang District Chapter for 16 years and have been involved in many disaster responses, Water Sanitation and Hygiene related projects and programs. But responding to COVID-19 was something completely new to me. In August 2020, the COVID case load was rapidly increasing in the district. Work was being done to try to contain the virus, but one crucial step hadn’t yet been taken: contact tracing. Realizing its importance — during festival season 22 positive COVID-19 cases were found — the Nepal Red Crescent Society held a virtual orientation for program staff. The two-hour orientation helped me and seven volunteers as well as health personnel from municipalities understand the process of contact tracing. Together we formed the Case Investigation and Contact Tracing team. Each of us did contact tracing and follow up for eight cases during the festival seasons in the district. Even as the cases rose to 62 over the next two weeks we were able to track the contacts of people with symptoms and refer them for testing. We managed to contain the cases through regular follow up with those isolations at home, quarantining close contacts and communicating with the health coordinator in municipality if further support was needed.
Those who tested positive and their contacts were provided with  Psychosocial support throughout their quarantine period. They told me this helped ease their stress and reduced the fear of the disease. Some even invented a new term for us: a "COVID-19 capsule", meaning that a few minutes of talking with us helped them heal their mind like a medicinal pill does for the body.
A group of people sitting socially distanced and with masks onThis was a very new experience for me and a new approach for the Nepal Red Cross Society. It was effective, but not without its challenges. Everyone was scared about the risks posed by COVID-19.
"Our neighbors had started neglecting us. They wouldn’t even come up to our doorsteps. That made me and my family very depressed. I thought I would die from this deadly disease,” said one of the people the volunteers supported. “But, me and my family felt good when you came regularly to talk with us. I felt cared for and learned a lot about the diseases and our responsibility to control its spread."
Those who tested positive weren’t the only people to struggle with distrust from the community. The other volunteers and I began to be seen as a possible threat too because of our regular contact with people who had COVID-19.  We have a great team though that met regularly to talk about how everyone was coping and to share tips on dealing with any issues that came up. And by providing information to communities about COVID-19 we are seeing less fear and stigma.
Khotang District is doing well, thanks in part to our team of volunteers. There was even a 2-week period with zero new cases reported. It feels good to be the part of this response where we are able to touch the community in so many different ways. The voices of the people we serve are my constant motivation. While it hasn’t been easy, the COVID-19 response showed me that I can learn how to adapt and work in challenging environments with increased risks. It’s shown me that we all can.
The Comprehensive Community-Based Health Program is supported by the Canadian Red Cross.

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