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  • AKDN agencies are all working together to help to continue our programmes to improve quality of life during these difficult times. Above: researchers working at the Aga Khan University in Pakistan.
Aga Khan Development Network
AKDN pulls together in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

In these unprecedented times, agencies of the AKDN are pulling together to find creative and effective solutions to sustain the important work that needs to be done to improve the quality of human life.

Working together, several AKDN agencies such as the Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS), the Aga Khan University (AKU) and the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) are already treating patients, testing suspected cases, and advising national authorities on their responses and preparedness. A cross-AKDN task force is planning how best to harness its institutions and activities to amplify its responses in order to address the various effects of this pandemic on public health, economic well-being, and social cohesion.

AKDN's operations are also being adapted to complement those of governments. Action areas span serving community needs, including support for public policies on self-isolation and quarantine; developing and introducing a spectrum of protocols for prevention, containment and care; as well as surveillance and case reporting.

AKDN is also engaging with national Ministries of Health to help raise funds for country-specific COVID-19 preparedness plans. The priority is to bolster government diagnostic and care capacities and secure much needed supplies and test kits.

Finally, in anticipation of the need for surge capacity to contain this and future epidemics, long-term system strengthening and local production of Personal Protective Equipment and diagnostic kits are also being considered for investment. Country frameworks are being shared with interested donors.

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In addition to preparing for COVID-19 and continuing to provide high-quality health services in its hospitals, clinics, labs, and public health centres, the Aga Khan University (AKU) is also putting the health and wellbeing of its community and the people they serve as their top priority.

In light of the rapidly evolving situation across the five of the six countries in which they operate – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania and the United Kingdom – AKU is taking immediate actions to limit the exposure of students, faculty and staff, to the coronavirus. In Pakistan, to comply with government directives, academic programmes have been suspended with teaching being transitioned to an online environment. In Kenya and Tanzania, academic programmes were suspended on Friday, 20 March. As the Master of Medicine Resident programme offers essential services in the course of their education and training, their education and clinical service will continue. For all other programmes, virtual learning environments are being used. AKU is closely monitoring the guidance and advice of governments, international health authorities, and their own global network of public health specialists.

“This pandemic presents the greatest challenge the world has seen in decades, and it is critically important that we act, both individually and collectively, such that we are able to change the trajectory of the virus, slow its progress and ultimately halt its impact on our communities, said Firoz Rasul, AKU’s President.

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The University of Central Asia (UCA) is also supporting local government and have offered some facilities at the campus as part of the town’s emergency plan for Naryn.

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The Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) is finding creative ways in which to sustain learning within the different contexts in which it operates. In countries like Bangladesh, for example, all teachers are now trained to use video communications tools such as Zoom and Google Classroom. Live classes are held whereby students receive their assignments on-line. They can also participate in discussion, have their questions answered, and get their work graded.

In countries such as in Pakistan and Afghanistan where remote learning is more of a challenge due to poor (or a lack of) internet connectivity, staff are providing carefully designated pick up and drop off points for assignments and learning continues beyond English and Mathematics to include a variety of subjects.

“We are mindful of the additional strain and challenges the school closures may put on families,” said Nimet Rener, Director of the Aga Khan Education Services. “AKES is also looking to ensure that the work sent home for children is moderated and support programmes for parents are being planned. Our most important concern at this time is the wellbeing of our staff, students and their families.”

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The Aga Khan Academies have put in place e-learning systems, tools and platforms to ensure educational continuity for all students across its three campuses. The Academies have also provided practical support for students, so that each student has the means to access these e-learning platforms from their home environments. For students that benefit from the Academies’ Talent Identification Programme, financial support has been extended to allow students to return home to their families.

Across the network, all essential teaching and non-teaching staff continue to carry out their duties, including smooth delivery of e-learning from 23 March.

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The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) is adopting several measures. In Pakistan, an Emergency Operations Centre has been activated and a National Crisis Management Committee made up of various members drawn from the AKDN and the Ismaili Community has been formed. It has been agreed that there will be emergency stockpiling of food and medicine in core areas.

In Syria, under the leadership of the Aga Khan Health Services and in close collaboration with the Aga Khan Foundation, CERT volunteers have been trained for awareness and possible response activities.

In Tajikistan, the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat has provided logistical support to the Government’s preparedness and response work, again in consultation and under the technical leadership of AKHS. The Swiss Development Corporation (SDC) has provided a $50,000 grant to AKAH Tajikistan for its work to support the Government’s response, specifically to supply and support quarantine centres in Murghab and Dushanbe.

Globally, AKAH is rolling out awareness sessions with particular emphasis on the personal hygiene of volunteers. High visibility advisories and posters have been put up in all offices. Cleaning schedules have been increased and personal protection measures have been issued to staff. Given the risks involved with the virus, both Community Emergency Resource Team (CERT) and Search and Rescue Team (SART) volunteers will be provided with the necessary specialist training and protective equipment before they are deployed.

Though physical premises are shut, the work of the Aga Khan Music Programme (AKMP) continues, with teachers remaining actively engaged in their students’music-learning through a variety of ingenious virtual learning tools.

As part of its mission to connect cultures and promote understanding between people, the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto is rolling out its #MuseumWithoutWalls programme, which allows you to “experience the best of what the Aga Khan Museum has to offer - without having to leave your front door”.

At its virtual #MuseumWithoutWalls, virtual visitors will be able “view priceless artifacts from the Museum Collection; enjoy live performances as well as recorded gems from our archives; download hands-on learning activities for children; engage directly with artists and curators via live webinars and virtual gallery tours; and join the conversation on the Museum’s social media channels”.

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The companies of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) are all playing their part to ensure the necessary measures are adhered to, while maintaining quality assurance. At its constituent companies, recommended precautionary measures such as creating awareness on COVID-19, good hygiene practices and appropriate respiratory etiquette are followed, and measures put in place to facilitate a clean workplace, including washing stations, hand sanitisers, frequent cleaning and wipe down of surfaces regularly touched. The Tourism Promotion Services (TPS) has put in place the highest standards of care and attention to detail while developing and implementing a comprehensive response plan in line with WHO and CDC directives.  This includes regular information dissemination, meticulous cleaning protocols and vigilant care throughout its hotels. Diamond Trust Bank (DTB) has been at the forefront of responding to the Government’s and Central Bank of Kenya’s directives, for example, to waive mobile banking charges, encourage online banking and transactions, and to review client and corporate loan repayment schedules. The Nation Media Group (NMG) is paying particular attention to raise awareness of the pandemic as well as the necessary steps to be taken by citizens.

This document will be updated periodically.