UK, UNICEF roll out $1M project to fight COVID-19 in BARMM

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 14 October) – The United Kingdom (UK) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched Wednesday a $1-million (about P50 million) project to help combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

UNICEF turns over supplies as part of the UK Government’s assistance to BARMM to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the region. From left: Director Andrew Alonto, Bureau of Public Information BARMM; OIC Minister Ameril Usman, Ministry of Health BARMM; Andrew Morris, Chief, UNICEF Mindanao Field Office; Minister Raissa Jajurie, Ministry of Social Services and Development BARMM; Minister Mohagher Iqbal, Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education BARMM. Photo courtesy of UNICEF

BARMM Interim Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim, British Embassy in the Philippines Deputy Head of Mission Alastair Totty and UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov led the online launch of the project that will benefit tens of thousands of people in the Bangsamoro region.

Last month, UNICEF received the grant from the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office of the United Kingdom Government to support the COVID-19 response in the Bangsamoro region. The partnership between the UK and UNICEF will strengthen the capacity in the region to respond to the pandemic.

The grant will be utilized for risk communication and community engagement to reach around three million vulnerable people with important lifesaving COVID-19 messages in their own languages.

It will also be used to continue essential nutrition and vaccination for around 130,000 vulnerable children and 25,000 infants in 20 municipalities in the BARMM as well as provide emergency relief support to Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and Basilan provinces for 5,000 returnees from Sabah, Malaysia.

Ebrahim lauded the UK government and the UNICEF for their continued assistance to the new Bangsamoro region.

“With the ever-changing realities now, I remain optimistic that not only can we stand again from the public health crisis but ultimately, as the redefined Bangsamoro, [which is] harnessed through the challenges of its decades-long struggle and the birth pains of its bureaucratic transition,” he said.

Ebrahim described the COVID-19 pandemic “as the biggest crisis that humanity is facing this century.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to children and their families in BARMM, according to the event’s press release.

“Even before the pandemic, the region has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, as well as one of the lowest outcomes in terms of child health, nutrition and education. The pandemic has driven many families deeper into poverty and has overwhelmed an already weak health system,” it added.

“We are delighted to partner with the BARMM Government and UNICEF to help strengthen capacity to deal with the challenges posed by COVID-19. Children are the future of the BARMM and they deserve to be given every chance to help shape its destiny,” Totty said.

“The UK Government will continue to be a committed partner in achieving lasting peace and prosperity in Mindanao for the benefit of all its citizens, but especially the most vulnerable children and families,” he added.

The support bolsters UNICEF’s response, through its Mindanao Field Office, providing supplies, training and technical support to the Bangsamoro government, Dendevnorov said.

Supplies procured by UNICEF include tents for hospitals, personal protective equipment for health and cleaning staff, and handwashing stations, she said.

UNICEF also trained health workers in infection and prevention control, translated and disseminated health messages to various dialects, and engaged children and youth to share their experiences of the pandemic as a way to inform future action, Dendevnorov said.

Working with religious leaders, UNICEF helped incorporate COVID-19 messages in their sermons, she said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)