RABAT, Morocco - When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Morocco in March, alarm spread through the country. "At the start of the pandemic, we were very worried about our health," Halima*, a migrant woman from Madagascar, told UNFPA.
A state of emergency was declared, and strict movement restrictions were implemented. Within three months of enacting these measures, the country was recognized for having one of the lowest fatality rates from the illness.
The Government also worked closely with partners, including UNFPA, to reduce disease transmission and limit the impact of the pandemic on at-risk communities. Operation SALAMA - which translates to Operation Safety - was one of these measures.
Launched in late March by UNFPA and partners, Operation SALAMA worked across multiple fronts, spreading accurate information about disease prevention, protecting health professionals and pregnant women from COVID-19, and minimizing the economic effects of the pandemic on the most vulnerable people.
In total, more than 16 million people were reached with disease-prevention information via television, radio and online communications.
Halima was among them. Now, she said, "we will protect ourselves well against the coronavirus"
SALAMA Kits, continuity of care
UNFPA also worked with health officials to ensure maternal health services remained available, even as the health system grappled with tens of thousands of cases of COVID-19.
Maternal health facilities were adapted to reduce the risk of coronavirus exposure. Health workers also received "SALAMA kits" containing protective equipment and sanitation supplies. More than 700 health-care professionals attended remote training sessions about disease prevention and management.
SALAMA kits with hygiene supplies and disease-prevention information were also distributed to vulnerable groups, including migrants, older people, persons with disabilities, survivors of violence, young people and people in detention.
Nearly 8,000 people were reached with these kits.
"The SALAMA kit could not have come at a better time," said Kawtar, a woman receiving support as a survivor of violence.
"This initiative has allowed me to protect myself and my family," added Nadia, a person with a disability who had been unable to purchase hygiene supplies and other essentials due to her precarious economic situation.
The accurate and easy-to-understand information packet "helped us to have more information about the coronavirus and ways to better protect ourselves," said Driss, an elderly person living in a social protection centre.
Support for survivors, economically vulnerable
Operation SALAMA also worked to minimize the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable communities.
Globally, for example, pandemic-related lockdowns and stresses have been associated with rising rates of violence against women and girls. Yet at the same time, movement restrictions and facility closures have limited the availability of services for survivors of violence.
In Morocco, Operation SALAMA established a helpline to allow survivors to seek assistance. Remote counselling systems and services were also created. From March to June, some 106 survivors of violence were able to receive support though these new mechanisms.
Income-generating opportunities were also created for economically vulnerable women.
Larimode, a clothing company, expanded its operations to create jobs, for instance. "The company has outsourced part of its production to integrate single mothers into employment and provide them with a stable and dignified income," said Meriem Larini, Larimode's CEO.
The building materials company BCSS also created opportunities for "vulnerable women in this period of crisis," the company's CEO, Chaibia Balbzioui Alaoui, noted.
In total, around 30 women have found stable employment through Operation SALAMA.
SALAMA at Work
Operation SALAMA drew to a close in mid-June.
Over its three months of operation, field interventions were carried out in 275 health centres, maternity hospitals, social protection centres, prisons, child protection centres, women's homes and service associations, covering more than 90 urban and rural localities.
The programme brought together a wide range of partners, from the Government and civil society organizations to youth groups, health worker associations and the private sector. It also received support from the Canadian and Belgian embassies in Morocco.
As a follow-up, UNFPA has launched the "SALAMA at Work" initiative, which continues efforts to raise awareness about COVID-19 prevention. The initiative is also removing barriers to care and support services, promoting healthy behaviours, and calling for safe and inclusive working environments that ensure respect for women's rights, dignity and equality.
* Name changed for safety and privacy