Bulletin in April 2020: rapid and local solutions for the coronavirus pandemic

To help stop the spread of the coronavirus, GIZ is developing new ideas and refocusing existing projects. It is taking a wide variety of approaches.

On behalf of the German Government, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is providing support in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Here is an overview of current measures in our countries of assignment. We will be updating the overview regularly.


Rapid assistance by experts

The Epidemic Preparedness Team (SEEG) is able to respond to outbreaks rapidly and flexibly. It is currently supporting laboratories in developing and emerging-market countries focusing in particular on training staff in correctly diagnosing Covid-19. In Namibia, SEEG helped to establish laboratory diagnostics for Covid-19 at the national reference laboratory, in Benin it supported the work to quickly build up greater laboratory capacity. Staff in both countries was also trained in carrying out tests. Additional assignments, also including Latin America, are currently being planned. The Epidemic Preparedness Team was founded as a response to the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa on behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ) and the German Health Ministry (BMG). The core team is based at GIZ and cooperates with the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM) and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) to more rapidly detect and respond to outbreaks of infectious disease. Find out more about the team’s work in the interview with microbiologist Michael Nagel.


Safe disposals, smart testing

Covid-19 has led to large amounts of potentially infected waste and other materials accumulating in hospitals. In Nepal, on behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ), GIZ has developed standards for an orderly and environmentally friendly way of disposing these materials. The standards have been adopted in 13 hospitals that are specialised in fighting Covid-19. More than two million people benefit from these waste materials not being disposed into the environment. GIZ is also supporting hospitals in using the limited test capacities. An early warning and reporting system helps to direct the usage of the tests.


Using Facebook to combat fake news 

Reliable information is key to containing the pandemic. ‘In Cambodia, Facebook is by far the most widely used form of social media. On Facebook, in particular, we are seeing hysterical and false reports about how the coronavirus is transmitted, how to avoid it, and the complication rates,’ says project manager Bernd Appelt. GIZ, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO), is therefore supporting the Cambodian Ministry of Health in stemming false information and providing the population with comprehensive information via Facebook. Two to three videos and several posters are published every week. They address rumours and fears that are circling around and provide reliable information on the possibilites for protection, diagnostics and treatment. With up to one million viewers per video, the health ministry is reaching up to ten times as many people as before.


Innovative, digital approaches to vocational training

How do trainees learn? Moldova’s dual vocational training system is built on digital courses. And it is now becoming clear just how important this is: despite being physically separated during the current lockdown, trainees are still able to stay in touch with their companies. ‘Trainers are finding innovative ways to teach their students, for example producing videos to show them how to work with different machines,’ explains project manager Oana Vodita. ‘Afterwards they discuss the video virtually with the group.’ On behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ) and with combined financing from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), GIZ has been supporting companies and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in improving the quality of in-company training in Moldova. This also includes using virtual methods, which are now playing a more prominent role in teaching practical skills. In addition to the formats already available, the vocational training project also offers webinars to advise trainees and teachers on how to structure their everyday lives to reflect the change to digital teaching. 600 trainees on seven dual training courses are already benefiting from these measures, which will now be extended to include other companies.

Another project supported four companies in adapting their production capacity to make medical protective clothing. This means that demand in Moldova can be more than covered by local producers.


Happiness through music

Musicians from Jordan are playing together against the crisis. But the challenge is that everyone must play their part alone at home. The individual recordings are then combined and the final video is posted online – one song every week. ‘In these difficult times, we musicians have a mission in our community,’ says Ihssan Al-Maani from the Jordan Youth Orchestra. ‘A mission to spread joy and happiness through our music.’ The bassoon player’s orchestra struck the first chord in mid-April, and at least a dozen other Jordanian music groups are set to follow between now and July. GIZ’s SPACE regional project initiated the musical series and helps produce the videos on behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ). ‘The current situation is particularly difficult for young people, not only because their freedom of movement is limited, but also because they have hardly any opportunities for social participation,’ explains project manager Kayed Sagalla. The musicians receive a small fee to help ease the pressure during the lockdown in Jordan. You can watch their performances on YouTube and Facebook.



Assuring the quality of imported respirator masks

Germany urgently requires protective equipment such as respirator masks to contain the pandemic. Most of these are imported, with a quarter of the world’s masks produced in China. To acquire masks more quickly, the German authorities are temporarily accepting foreign safety certificates. But how can they ensure that the imported masks actually meet EU standards and that the Chinese certificates are genuine? On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), GIZ has been working in China and other countries since 2014 to improve the safety and quality of traded products. During the current pandemic, the company and its Chinese partners are carrying out checks for authorities from across Germany to determine whether the respirators on offer function as promised. Using guidelines it has drawn up, GIZ checks whether the inspection reports contain all the required information and whether the assessments are entered in the Chinese databases. The Chinese authorities then verify that the certificates are genuine.

Following a pilot phase with authorities in Lower Saxony, the service was rolled out across Germany in mid-April.


Recording new cases centrally

In early February, SORMAS (Surveillance Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System), the digital disease monitoring system added Covid-19 to the diseases it is tracking. It is currently being used in Nigeria and Ghana. The system also functions on mobile phones and facilitates the control of Covid-19 infections, especially in rural areas. Health staff can collect information about infected people and contact persons and pass on the information to health authorities in real time. These authorities can then quickly initiate counter measures, such as contact restrictions, to slow the spread of the disease. SORMAS was developed by the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research. On behalf of the BMZ and co-financed by the EU, GIZ has supported the transformation into an open-source tool, as well as the application of the system and its Covid-19 module in Nigeria and Ghana. 


Protecting displaced persons

In Northern Iraq, more than 370,000 internally displaced persons and 83,000 Syrians who have fled the IS regime of terror live in the governorate of Duhok alone. Duhok and other host communities are at particular risk from the coronavirus pandemic. As project manager Gunnar Strote explains, ‘Comprehensive risk communication and preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus are really important for everyone – the local Kurdish population, those living in refugee camps and the medical staff caring for them.’ In response, GIZ has acted quickly to expand its continuing training provision. Working with the Italian NGO AISPO, it has provided wide-ranging training for almost 1,800 doctors, nurses and other hospital staff as of mid-May One area of focus is on preventing infection, while another is on nursing, treating and, where necessary, ventilating those with the virus. On behalf of BMZ, GIZ has been supporting the regional government since 2016 in developing the region’s water supply and education and health systems.



Working together

In Georgia, GIZ has worked on behalf of the EU and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to equip a start-up business with 12 additional sewing machines. Georgia’s Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development itself provided a further 32 machines. This has enabled the business to increase production, and it is now manufacturing several thousand items of protective clothing each day. Of the 70 people it employs, 50 are in newly created jobs.


Deep breaths – and laser technology

‘Yes we breathe’ is one of a number of emergency measures developed by the Digital Centre in Tunisia to combat the pandemic. A group led by 23-year-old engineering student Taja Grach from the National School of Engineering in Sousse (ENISo) rapidly developed a simple ventilator to help cope with the expected shortage of equipment in Tunisian hospitals. Doctors have approved the prototypes for use. As Grach proudly notes, ‘We passed all the tests with flying colours.’ This also applies to the protective visors he and his colleagues have designed for medical staff. They started out using 3-D printers to make the visors, but that took too long. Producing a new design and using laser technology, the group has now reduced the time it takes to produce a visor from 90 minutes to just two minutes. 53,000 were produced for hospitals by the end of May.

On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ started creating the Digital Centre in Tunisia in late 2019 and provided a group of researchers and start-up companies with support in March. Within just a few days, the group designed a new diagnostic model based on artificial intelligence that uses x-ray images of the lung to detect Covid-19 infections caused by the coronavirus in just 15 seconds.


A quiz to help prevent infection

Four GIZ colleagues successfully submitted an idea for a phone quiz to a German Government hackathon in late March. Their quiz helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus. It is a simple way of disseminating information about preventive measures, particularly in Africa, where only around a third of the population has an internet connection but most people have a mobile phone. As Lars Wannemacher explains, ‘The phone quiz works on the most basic of mobile phones. Callers ring a hotline and then use their phone keypad to navigate through a series of spoken quiz questions, like in a game.’ ‘Call vs. Corona’ is one of 20 initiatives selected from 1,500 suggestions put forward during the hackathon. This free service is particularly advantageous for people with poor literacy skills. Read more here.

Additional information