Executive Director, Social Development Commission, Dr. Dwayne Vernon

The Social Development Commission (SDC) has been using research, data sharing and community mobilisation to support the Government’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The agency has also been heavily involved in sensitising the public about the risks of the disease and how persons can protect themselves from contracting it.

In an interview with JIS News, Executive Director of the SDC, Dr. Dwayne Vernon, explained that the range of activities being undertaken by the agency has been critical to stemming the spread of COVID-19.

The activities include sensitisation sessions, the establishment of the RONA Helpline Senior Care Response telephone hotline, and a compliance audit to measure public adherence to the Government’s COVID-19 guidelines.

Since the declaration of the first community quarantine in Jamaica in March this year, the agency has been providing population numbers and other demographic information on various communities in an effort to help limit the transmission of the virus.

“We also provided information on the number of shops, different institutions or facilities within the space, so as to measure how we could provide relief assistance in an area that has been quarantined,” he noted.

Dr. Vernon said the SDC also provided data relating to the number of shops, places of entertainment, community bars and taverns that were impacted.

“Regarding the protocol development, so far, we have contributed to 14 protocols being written. ‘Contribution’ means we have done the research and we had consultation with players in the different industries, for example in theatres [other places of] entertainment, the rafters. We have looked at the beaches and rivers, the bar owners, day-care centres, and summer camps,” he said.

Dr. Vernon added that the agency is still in the process of undertaking a compliance audit, in relation to the protocols that have been developed.

“The audit simply means, based on the protocols that have been developed, we would have a questionnaire with all the major areas that the different sectors, the different groups, the different types of activities, have to comply with,” he noted.

Meanwhile, the SDC Executive Director shared that the activation of the RONA Helpline Senior Care Response initiative assisted thousands of senior citizens over the age of 70 years who needed help and support as a result of the stay-at-home order implemented by the Government.

He explained that this critical State service primarily benefited those elderly persons who did not have the requisite support systems at home.

The helplines were designed to provide services primarily to enable the seniors to access medical care, food and sanitation supplies. They were assisted by SDC officers.

“We have provided service to more than 300 different households. However, in terms of responses, that would be in the thousands, because as you can imagine, one household might call two times per week, and over the period, you may have one household calling over 10 times, So, there is a lot of work that we have done in that regard,” Dr. Vernon shared.

He informed that the agency has been provided with additional financial support to carry out most of the activities, which also include a sensitisation campaign. The SDC has also increased its staff complement with the addition of 200 temporary protocol workers.

These protocol workers, he explained, assist the agency in monitoring adherence to the guidelines established for the various sectors.

“Given COVID since March, we would have had to realign our programmes budget and work plans because some resources that we would have dedicated to other activities have now been put behind the support we are providing for COVID,” Dr. Vernon explained.

He stressed that the new activities align naturally with the work and mandate of the SDC.

The agency is part of a coordinated response led by its parent Ministry, the Local Government Ministry. Its responsibilities include the community-based dissemination of COVID-19 information. The Commission works with more than 750 communities islandwide.

Dr. Vernon lauded the staff of the agency for their dedication and commitment in performing their duties, which he pointed out, will ultimately redound to the benefit of all Jamaicans once they comply with the measures that have been implemented by the Government.

“It’s a lot of work because apart from providing support to the elderly through the RONA Helpline, our staff are still doing their data collection and still doing their community engagement. They have to go out in the evenings and sometimes nights, early mornings and on the weekends to do the compliance audits,” Dr. Vernon said.

“They have to write those reports and submit them to [facilitate] decision-making. So, based on the work that they have done, I am very proud and satisfied with our staff,” the Executive Director added.

Collaboration is another area the SDC Executive Director said has been vital to the agency’s success in carrying out its responsibilities.

He said the SDC has been actively collaborating and networking with the Ministries of Health and Wellness; Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport; Tourism; the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and other agencies and departments.

Dr. Vernon is urging all Jamaicans to adhere to the safety guidelines that have been established to reduce the spread of the virus.

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