- Project to mitigate impact of Covid-19 on Traveller community sees provision of accommodation units, water & sanitation, electricity and waste removal
The HSE National Social Inclusion office (NSIO) and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH) have today published ‘The Report on the National Traveller COVID-19 Accommodation Preparedness Checklist’ outlining the actions and outcomes of a collaborative initiative to strengthen COVID-19 preparedness and infection prevention and control in Traveller accommodation.
In a 14 month period there were 5,226 Covid-19 notifications among Travellers which at 169/1000 was three times the rate among the general population at 50/1000. 4.5% of Travellers were hospitalised compared to 0.5% of the general population. Travellers remain the highest at-risk group in terms of COVID-19 outbreak identification and management among vulnerable groups.
The checklist project, designed to identify risk to life and health in this community from COVID-19, brought together the HSE NSIO and the DHLGH as well as HSE Public Health, the County and City Management Association (CCMA), local authorities (LAs), Traveller Health Units (THUs) and Primary Healthcare for Traveller Projects (PHCTPs).
The checklist was a toolkit for local action which identified areas that needed additional supports during this pandemic.
Two hundred and forty-five site checklists were completed by Traveller Community health workers and local authorities under the project nationally.
By April 2021, local authorities had drawn down €4.5 million in funding for the provision of additional facilities for Traveller-specific accommodation. This included the provision of 111 accommodation units, additional water and sanitation facilities, electricity supply, additional site cleaning, additional waste removal, pest control and site improvement works.
The HSE via the THUS/ PHCTPs and local HSE Social Inclusion ensured additional social supports were provided, such as face-to-face outreach with information about COVID-19 and available services. Additionally, wrap-around supports were organised during outbreaks or suspected outbreaks, for example organising transport, food and medication.
Both the HSE and local authorities provided COVID-19 site signage, welfare packs and personal protective equipment such as face coverings and hand sanitiser.
The participation of the Traveller Community health workers from the PHCTPs, who in many instances lived on the sites involved, was invaluable.
Commenting on the report, Dr. Margaret Fitzgerald, HSE Public Health Lead for Vulnerable Groups, said: “I want to acknowledge the enormous effort that went into not just the work on the project but the collaboration from all those involved in order to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 to Travellers. I want to commend the effort made to improve the housing conditions for Travellers as a result of the project.
“I also want to reiterate the importance of adequate housing, and in particular adequate space and ventilation as key to preventing infection with and spread of COVID-19. I want to thank the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Traveller Health Units, the City and County Management Association and the Traveller Primary Healthcare Projects for their involvement. Lastly I want to thank the residents of the sites involved for their co-operation and support in preventing the spread of COVID-19.”
Frank Curran, Chair of the County and City Management Association (CCMA) Housing Committee said:
“The collaborative efforts of local authorities, the HSE, Traveller representatives and others have been crucial to mitigating against COVID-19 within vulnerable groups during the pandemic. As the report launched today demonstrates, the COVID-19 Accommodation Preparation Checklist facilitated a very practical approach that had significant impact and local authorities will continue to build on the progress made.”
The Minister for Planning and Local Government, Peter Burke TD, said:
“Since the start of the pandemic, my Department has worked with local authorities, Traveller representative groups and the HSE to provide a strong response to identified and emerging health risks to the Traveller population. This included the joint initiative of ‘The National Traveller COVID-19 Accommodation Preparedness Checklist’.
“The focus of the Department has been on life safety and putting in place measures to protect both the vulnerable Traveller community and the wider community. A positive effect of this initiative has been greater health protection for Travellers against COVID-19 and a reduced spread of infection. We’ve also seen positive engagement between all stakeholders. I want to acknowledge the Trojan work put in by the HSE and local authority staff since the start of the crisis. Whilst delivering front line services, they’ve often put themselves at risk. I also want to pay tribute to the Traveller organisations for their work in getting the public health messages to the community.
“Lastly I want to thank the authors of this report for producing it. I hope the report contributes to ongoing collaborative efforts to protect the Traveller community against COVID-19 and future public health challenges.”