The Start Fund responds to its 100th crisis
An outbreak of Lassa fever that poses a risk to nearly a million people in northern Togo has become the focus of the 100th crisis response financed by the Start Fund.
Schoolchildren will play a key role in a project run by Plan International which aims to raise people’s awareness of the potentially deadly virus and encourage them to react quickly to the appearance of its symptoms. They will be taught what to look out for and precautions that can prevent the disease spreading, and urged to share the knowledge with their families and communities.
Togo has had 20 suspected cases of the viral haemorrhagic fever since February, eight of which have been positively confirmed as the disease by laboratory testing. Seven of those were in the northern-most Savanes region, and four have since died. Others are still being treated.
Many of the cases were people who had arrived from neighbouring countries including Burkina Faso, where the disease is more common. Because Lassa fever is not endemic in Togo, a single case qualifies as an outbreak under the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition.
The Start Fund was alerted to the crisis by the medical aid agency ALIMA on April 2 and the following day members agreed in principle to allocate funding. On April 5 a local selection committee, involving members in Togo and two neighbouring countries, backed a £128,000 project proposed by Plan International, also a member of the fund. The response on the ground has just begun.
It was a significant milestone for the Start Fund, marking its 100 crisis response since it was launched in April 2014. It has enabled emergency aid to reach nearly six million people affected by crisis in 51 countries.
Sean Lowrie, director of Start Network, said:
“The Start Fund is one of the success stories of foreign aid. It harnesses the impartial expertise of humanitarians for the collective good in a unique way, and enables help to reach communities affected by crises that might otherwise receive no assistance, or receive it late. It is transparent, fast, efficient and effective.”
Reflecting on the Start Fund’s third anniversary Gloria Donate, head of the Disaster Risk Management Unit at Plan International UK – who was involved in the fund’s first response in South Sudan, in April 2014 – described in a blog how it had changed aspects of how the aid system works.
“We often wait for institutional donors to make funding available and tell us what they want, but the Start Fund enables us to take responsibility as humanitarian agencies with strong presence in the field,” she wrote. “It’s also pushed us to improve our preparedness capacity: to invest in having on-going need assessment information and situation reports, and to coordinate better with our humanitarian peers to jointly agree on the needs and potential response.”
Lassa fever is carried primarily by rats, but without strict hygiene can also be transmitted directly from one person to another. Early symptoms include fever and weakness, which then escalate to diarrhoea and vomiting.
Dr Ruhana-Mirindi Bisimwa, a WHO health security and emergencies officer in Togo, said the Plan International project enabled by the Start Fund was “crucial” to controlling the Lassa fever outbreak as it would lead to better understanding of the disease and its symptoms.
“If communities have good information it encourages people to come quickly to health centres, and so it encourages good care,” he said. “Awareness raising also enables communities to take preventative measures, particularly in the area of hygiene, thus avoiding the spread of the disease.’’
The project team is working with Togo's health ministry, the WHO and other local, partners to develop educational materials to use with children, as well as other ways including radio spots to convey the message to people in the Savannah region most at risk.
Plan International also intends to deliver basic hygiene kits to more than 200 health centres, to reduce the risk of accidental transmission of the virus and to protect health workers.
The Start Network is running a live blog to report on the 100th Start Fund intervention in real time, which began shortly before the Lassa fever alert was raised.