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Health and wellbeing in informal settlements in the time of COVID-19

2 August 2020

Attention is growing into the potential implications of COVID-19 for people’s mental health and wellbeing. But more research is needed into how the most vulnerable communities are coping.

In August we launched a survey looking at the current state of health and wellbeing across all 24 RISE informal settlements in Makassar, Indonesia and Suva, Fiji. The survey asks residents to reflect on many different aspects of their wellbeing, including, their levels of happiness and hope, financial security, how safe they feel, stress and anxiety levels and connection to their community.

With coronavirus shutdowns having led to mass unemployment in Suva, and Makassar still dealing with some of the highest fatality numbers in Indonesia, it is a crucial time to take stock.

This is the second phase of a COVID check-in with communities in Suva and Makassar, but the survey is also a core part of RISE’s ongoing research tracking people’s wellbeing over time.

Monash University’s Dr Rohan Sweeney is part of the team leading RISE’s wellbeing research. Having worked in health economics for more than 10 years, he believes that, in addition to ensuring our approach evaluates the wellbeing impacts of RISE, much can be learned in the wake of a disaster.

‘We’ve been tracking many important aspects of people’s wellbeing over time, so we were already well-placed to assess how COVID-19 might impact,’ he says.

‘We have also needed to be agile. When our Fiji and Indonesia teams conducted the first round of phone-based surveys, these calls revealed the need to expand our core questions to capture more information about job losses and food security, which are becoming bigger issues at the moment,’ he reflects.

Taking advice directly from the RISE Indonesia and Fiji local teams, the survey has intentionally been kept shorter to reduce the burden on residents during this difficult time.

But Dr Sweeney notes it’s not just about a disaster response, but understanding resilience in the long-term.

‘Yes, we have harnessed and modified our surveys to monitor the impacts of COVID-19. But we also have the opportunity to innovate beyond disaster response and move towards long-term plans that improve the wellbeing of people living in informal settlements’.

Over coming months, RISE will be looking at the short- and medium-term impacts of COVID-19 on communities, and exploring features of households and communities that appear to help or hinder resilience and recovery.

Above: Dr Sweeney with RISE Indonesia and Fiji local teams, who expertly guide the program's community engagement.