Supporting Vulnerable Populations in India, Indonesia, and Vietnam during COVID-19

June 9th, 2020 | Viewpoint


As we navigate life during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether sheltering in place, working under heightened risk, or resuming previous routines, we are keenly aware of our safety and security. While we respond individually, we are bound by common concerns.

For those of us working in development, our priority should be caring for people who are most vulnerable. The JSI-led Building Healthy Cities (BHC) project promotes healthy urban planning in three Smart Cities in Asia: Indore, India; Makassar, Indonesia; and Da Nang, Vietnam. While BHC’s core mandate and activities do not relate to the pandemic directly, we have taken the opportunity to assess each city’s (and host country’s) response, specifically if and how it is meeting the acute needs of vulnerable populations. (We define ‘vulnerable’ broadly, from elderly to people who are disabled to migrant workers to informal laborers).


As of June 8, Indore has reported 3,785 cases of COVID -19 with 157 deaths. Indore is using its wide-reaching waste management schemeto provide food to residents. Each day, volunteers from local nongovernmental organizations accompany garbage truck drivers to distribute and collect grocery order forms. Initially, residents were limited to staples such as potatoes, onions, cereals, pulses, and spices. In early May, the Indore Municipal Corporation, which runs the scheme, began taking orders for vegetables. However, the program has been criticized for the quality of the deliveries, and the volunteers noted that people who are poor were not able to afford the service’s delivery fee. BHC collaborator, the Centre for Urban and Regional Excellence (CURE) has been working to understand gender-specific challenges that community members face, and has recently completed a detailed situational analysis of Indore slums, with information generated through phone calls and SMS. The Pranyas Development Foundation is conducting awareness campaigns in slums and villages, distributing safety equipment including masks and soap, and providing food to daily wage earners. Additionally, women’s self-help groups (there are six million comprising nearly 70 million members) are producing personal protective equipment, sensitizing communities about hygiene, delivering essential food supplies, and running community kitchens. John Snow India Private Limited, BHC’s partner in India, is supporting the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and coordinating with partners to understand the status of routine immunization activities, and providing policy-level support through the Public Health Working Group.


In Makassar, where large-scale social restrictions are enforced, testing and monitoring are top priority. As of June 8, there were 1,067 positive COVID-19 cases, and 81 deaths. While testing increases, people are paying attention to the needs of the vulnerable, including people who are deaf. A husband and wife who are tailors shifted their business from curtains, bed sheets, and cushions to masks that have transparent shields so that people who are hearing-impaired and deaf can read wearers’ lips. Maybank Indonesia, through its My Care for You and Me initiative is distributing personal protective equipment to hospitals and providing financial assistance to orphans and people who are poor. On May 13, the government announced support measures for Indonesian migrant workers who are affected by the movement restrictions in neighboring Malaysia. BHC’s partner in Indonesia, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has initiated preventive actions, hygiene promotion, and community awareness activities among refugees and asylum-seekers and has identified potential spaces for quarantine and isolation. IOM is also working with the UN Country Team to procure ventilators and other essential medical supplies.


Vietnam has recently begun to ease restrictions. As of June 8, only six positive COVID-19 cases with no fatalities were reported in Da Nang. During the strictly enforced lockdown, civil society organizations assisted poor families. Across Da Nang, chapters of the Women’s Union provided essentials  such as eggs, rice, milk, instant noodles, hand sanitizer, soap, and face masks. Rice ATMs that distribute 2kg of free rice per person were set up in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang, and are expected to operate through June. In Ho Chi Minh City, Meals of Smiles, a corporate social responsibility initiative organized by GreenFeed Vietnam, delivered meals to frontline workers, local orphanages, and people facing economic hardship. Thrive Networks, BHC’s partner in Vietnam, worked with the Vietnamese Women’s Union and local authorities to implement a program that will provide hand-washing devices and soap to nearly 1,000 poor households and more than 170 commune health stations and kindergartens, in conjunction with other efforts to supply clean water to more than 3,600 households in five provinces.

To learn more about the responses in our project cities, read Urban Health in the Time of COVID-19.

Written by: Karin Christianson

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