The Coronavirus pandemic hit South Africa in March 2020 and within a few months, South Africa became the most affected country in Africa. With a population of 59 million, characterised by poverty, a struggling health system and a quadruple burden of diseases, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to exacerbate these conditions. Although the impact of COVID-19 in South Africa is still unfolding, there are numerous surveys and qualitative inquiries that are being conducted. Of note is the South African National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (CRAM), Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Street Talk - Asikhulume project, Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) study, and the ongoing Food System Impact study by the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP). Findings from these studies show that approximately 2.5 to 3 million people lost their jobs between February 2020 and April 2020 alone. This in turn has exacerbated food insecurity as 33% of respondents indicated having gone to bed hungry more than once since March 2020. The closure of schools has also compromised children’s nutrition; 90% of children in the rural Eastern Cape depend on the National School Nutrition Programme for a nutritious meal each day. The pandemic has also caused substantial disruptions in the health system as human, financial and medical resources are diverted to the COVID-19 response. This, coupled with patients’ fears has resulted in non-utilization of healthcare services.
There is early evidence of decline in uptake of antenatal care services and routine vaccinations for children. The implications of these are increased maternal and child mortality including vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) such as measles, multidimensional child poverty, delays in early childhood development. To avert these effects, One to One Africa has implemented several response strategies, namely ensuring income security of all staff, adoption of tele-health for continuity of healthcare, appointing patient navigators at health facilities, food parcel distribution for extremely vulnerable families, provision of micronutrients for children, as well as 24/7 telephonic psychosocial support services for staff. This paper makes concrete recommendations to reduce vulnerability and to ensure optimal health & wellbeing for families in the rural Eastern Cape.