The International Federation of Social Workers Africa Region held a second webinar on the 6th May 2020 on the COVID -19 social work response whose theme is COVID -19: Social Work practice, Ethical dilemmas and Human Rights concerns. The conversation was quite enriching as panelists brought out quite some interesting reflections on the many ethical dilemmas and human rights concerns that social workers in Africa are grappling with in the wake of COVID-19 response. Some of the notable ethical dilemmas highlighted include the fact that social workers in Africa have continued providing social work services at the expense of their safety as they have to come into contact with their clients. It is next to impossible to provide virtual services to clients in Africa due to poor communication facilities and the lack of it by those who use social work services. The conversation also brought out the ethical dilemma of having to work with limited resources when the demand for social work services in the wake of COVID-19 has incredibly increased. Social workers have to turn away some of their clients regardless of the extent of need due to lack of resources to meet their needs. We also learnt that social workers on the frontline, particularly those working in hospitals as well as those in the community providing social protection services, conducting contact tracing as well as those working in quarantine and isolation centres have inadequate PPEs and are at great risk of being infected by corona virus.
The conversation also brought out human rights concerns ranging from restrictions in movements due to lockdowns hindering social workers reaching out to their clients. Many of the public places such as places of worship, bars and community meetings have been banned with law enforcement officers going beyond their limits to enforce the law as people found breaching the lockdown guidelines were beaten up and dehumanized. Despite the call to many citizens to wash their hands with soap and clean water as well as alternatively sanitize hands with alcohol based sanitizer as a preventative measure from contracting corona virus, most people in poor communities in Africa have no access to water and let alone financial resources to procure soap and or alcohol based hand sanitizers. The concept of physical distancing may also not fit into our African setting as most people live in squalor and overcrowded places. For example, in many poor communities in Africa, a family of 6 to 10 members could be living in a two roomed house.
During the websinars, speakers also stated taht
IFSW Africa, therefore calls upon social workers and educators to be innovative by engaging their respective governments to prescribe COVID-19 preventative measures that reflects our needs and setting as well as work to challenge human rights violations perpetrated by state agents in the guise of fighting the spread of COVID-19. To fellow social workers, be innovative by using your skills to work through ethical dilemmas you are currently facing. Remember we are called to serve and challenge injustices on the poor and most vulnerable populations in society.