With rising COVID-19 infection rates, a reintroduction of social restrictions and the ensuing socioeconomic toll on some of the most vulnerable people that has characterized the turn of the year, a not-for-profit development outfit – Cocoa360 – is easing the strain on government’s efforts at curbing the disease, with its innovative model in rural Ghana.
Founded by an Ivy League-trained biologist, Shadrack O. Firmpong, Cocoa360, which implements a ‘farm-for-impact’ model aimed at improving health and education outcomes, especially in cocoa-growing communities, has leveraged comprehensive community-wide engagement to fighting COVID-19 starting in the Prestea-Huni Valley district.
Offering the rationale for the initiative, Mr. Frimpong stated that at the advent of COVD-19 in Ghana, he was especially alarmed by factors such as weak health infrastructure, low levels of health literacy and high COVID-19 misinformation, and an aging population fraught with COVID-19 comorbidities such as diabetes and hypertension, which characterise rural communities.
“This is especially distressing, seeing that the vast majority of cocoa families numbering approximately 1.6 million people, who are responsible for some US$3 billion to the economy annually, live in abject squalor and poverty and are some of the most vulnerable in the time of a public health crisis of this magnitude,” the Cambridge doctoral candidate told the B&FT in an exclusive interview.
He added that with mass vaccinations realistically expected to be completed no earlier than 2023, the situation has assumed an increased level of importance as a rise in infection rates could have an untold bearing on not only on these communities but also the wider economy.
Utilising information from community members and leaders, as well as evidence from successful community-based interventions during the Ebola outbreak coupled with initial funding from the Clinton Foundation and the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, Cocoa360’s COVID Preparedness & Outbreak Prevention Plan (CoCoPOPP) has in the 10 months since its implementation trained some 15 rural youth as COVID-19 First Responders; a move which has been critical to the overall success of the programme.
In that time, 9,356 rural citizens, including 170 pregnant women, have received comprehensive sensitization on COVID-19 – its symptoms, preventive measures as well as reactions – with some 6,810 persons receiving Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs).
This has resulted in improved healthcare utilisation by 53.4% as more than 150 Respiratory Tract Infections (RTI) patients received free treatment.
“The success hinged upon the active engagement of the communities – their chiefs, eminent people and quite frankly everyone – who showed us the most effective means of communicating with the people. Means which were not based on our preconceived notion of what should work but on evidence and their experiences,” he said of the record of zero suspected COVID cases and deaths in the eight communities where the programme served some 10,000 people.
The Rural Zero Campaign
Off the back of the success of the CoCoPOPP and backed with empirical evidence, Frimpong stated that Cocoa360 seeks to scale up the project to reach over 100,000 people in some 100 rural cocoa farming communities with an emphasis on targeted hotspot and community entry points with the Rural Zero Campaign (RZC).
“We will partner with local leaders, and community-based health workers as well as public health experts to achieve this goal… we will delegate power to them, and grant them the control to use public health education, PPE distribution, and primary care measures to successfully prevent and control the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.
He noted that the cost of effective engagement per community is the equivalent of US$10,000 on the average.
Based in rural Ghana, Cocoa360 is a 501(c)3 nonprofit which is working with rural communities to pioneer the ‘‘farm-for-impact” model, wherein cocoa farm revenues are leveraged to pre-finance education and healthcare services.
Its target population is the 1.6million cocoa farmers in some 1,300 cocoa-growing communities across rural Ghana, whose hard work earns the country over US$3billion in foreign revenue, yet struggle to access quality healthcare and education.
Riding on the principles of effective community engagement, Cocoa360 has partnered with 8 rural communities to establish a tuition-free all-girls’ school, a medical clinic, and a community-run cocoa farm whose revenues sustain the operations of the school and clinic with a team of over fifty (50) expert public health scientists, educators, clinicians, operational and development professionals work tirelessly to facilitate community-driven impact in healthcare and education.
In about five years of operations, Cocoa360 have enrolled 197 students, served over 8000 patients, treated over 1800 malaria cases, and delivered over 100 babies in the 8 communities we serve. It has also increased the farm area under cultivation by 58.33% and the production level increased by 4.67% and still counting.
Work done by Cocoa360 has been recognised globally by President Bill Clinton, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and on such lists such as the Forbes 30 under 30.