The global spread of COVID-19 called for innovative health and socioeconomic responses that integrate community level solutions and focus on intersecting needs and priorities. In Belarus, consequences and losses included worsening health and well-being indicators amongst the most vulnerable and marginalized: Elderly people, people living with disabilities, women, survivors of domestic violence, children and adolescents in institutional care, former criminal offenders, and those living in remote areas with limited access to basic services. The sheer number of affected people placed a heavy burden on social support systems and service providers on top of compounded risks, increased financial and social losses, and collective decline in physical and psychological health.
Such negative effects, however, can be reduced through the provision of dedicated support and innovative interventions that increase the resilience of people and institutions, and leverage platforms for collective action between local service providers, business community, and target populations. Facilitating these innovative multi-stakeholder partnerships is central to the COVID-19 response in the UN Socio-Economic Response to COVID-19 Plan for Belarus (SERP) and sits at the heart of the Belarus COVID-19 Action Programme (BeCAP): Joint Action for Recovering Better through Strengthening Health, Social Services and Community Resilience joint programme.
The inclusive and open nature of the joint programme makes it a perfect vehicle for expanding networks and partnerships, and mobilizing cooperation and business support for current and future COVID-19 socioeconomic responses based on best practices. BeCAP stakeholders focus on three priorities:
- Strengthening the health systems and services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Protect vulnerable people and ensure their access to quality mental health counselling and social services.
- Enhance community resilience to facilitate reliable service delivery and continuity in a post-pandemic economy.
The programme is aligned with United Nations priorities for addressing COVID-19 as reflected in SERP pillar one (protecting health services and systems during the crisis), pillar two (social protection and basic services), and pillar five (social cohesion and community resilience).
Building on the EU-funded “Preventing Non-communicable Diseases, Promoting Healthy Lifestyle and Support to Modernization of the Health System in Belarus" (BELMED) project, BeCAP beneficiaries are directly involved in collaborative action at the local level to ensure diverse representation in programmes that strengthen health and social services across the country. Gender specific and transformative interventions embedded in every aspect of the programme, as well as components specifically designed to reach the most vulnerable, enhance accessibility for all (including children with disabilities, the elderly, and those with intellectual impairments)—such as digital health and social services like virtual counselling.
Project stakeholders address inequality by collaborating with socially isolated communities and people with limited access to basic health and social services, bringing them into the fold to help design and implement integrative, transformative projects. Special attention is given to meeting the demands of the most vulnerable by enhancing their participation in decision-making processes, a move that also promotes equal access to training and in creating digital solutions. Participation is vital for raising the resilience of vulnerable groups and improving their coping mechanisms to better handle stressors linked to COVID-19 that affect mental health and well-being. Work streams include peer-to-peer responses for children and adolescents, improving hotline services, and building resources like psycho-social mobile teams for people with disabilities.
Primary healthcare professionals are a core BeCAP stakeholder since they provide first aid, mental health interventions, and referrals for more specialized psychological support. To reach children and adolescents whose mental health has been negatively affected, joint programme stakeholders partner with schools to integrate basic psycho-social practices in classrooms and provide tools for issuing referral. Similar interactive approaches are in the pipeline for application by health and education professionals, and CSO stakeholders to cast the widest net possible—disseminating practical 'tools' that address multiple, complex challenges and directing financing that boosts psychological resilience.