Interview with Dr. Natasha Kaoma: Maintaining Community Work and Reproductive Health Efforts during the Pandemic

Dr. Natasha Kaoma, CEO of Copper Rose Zambia, an NGO working on issues of adolescent sexual and reproductive health, speaks to COVID-19 Africa Watch about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted her organization’s work.


Key Takeaways

The following are a few of the main takeaways from COVID-19 Africa Watch’s conversation with Dr. Natasha Kaoma, CEO of Copper Rose Zambia:

  • Working with youth on reproductive health issues requires going out into the community and meeting people directly, but the pandemic has curtailed this work.
  • COVID-19 has increased the costs of doing community-based work, due to PPE costs, internet costs, and the additional equipment required in the new environment.
  • Fundraising has been mixed, as corporate sponsors have pulled back on commitments while others have stepped up to offer more support and flexibility.
  • While many programs can be moved online, rural communities will not have access to these efforts.
  • Despite its challenges, the pandemic is an opportunity to innovate and to find new ways to make an impact.

The interview was conducted by Kennedy Mukuka, an IFC-Milken Institute Capital Market Scholar from Bank of Zambia. A transcript is available below.



Hello, my name is Kennedy Mukuka from Zambia, a scholar with IFC-Milken Institute Capital Market Program. Today I am pleased to welcome the Chief Executive Officer of Copper Rose Zambia, Dr. Natasha Kaoma, who is joining us today to share her insights on COVID-19 crisis in Africa. Dr. Kaoma, welcome and thanks for being with us.

Dr. Kaoma

Thank you so much, Kennedy. I am glad to be here.


Let’s begin by understanding what Copper Rose Zambia is and what it is that you do exactly.

Dr. Kaoma

Copper Rose Zambia is an organization that is based in Zambia. We’re a youth-led and youth-focused organization, most of our work is around reproductive health, menstrual health management, mentorship, and leadership programs. We also are doing work on maternal and child health. Typically, our programs are working with young people in schools and communities, and our target is youth and women. And so we spend a lot of time educating them, generating demand for services and building the capacity of other groups and other individuals on how best we can work with these people.


Is there any way that the COVID-19 has affected your organization or the activities and programs that you are undertaking?

Dr. Kaoma

Definitely. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot about how we work and I will share a few of my experiences so far.

First of all, with the COVID-19 pandemic we cannot go out and we cannot meet people. A huge portion of our programs are dependent on us meeting people and us going out so that we can educate them and share the knowledge, but we are not able to do that. Also, we work a lot with health care providers in health facilities. And a lot of the healthcare providers are being drawn away from, for example, youth friendly spaces and are going to do either screening, prevention, or management of COVID-19. And this has greatly impacted the number of healthcare providers we’re able to work with.

“COVID-19 has increased the cost of doing work.”

COVID-19 has increased the cost of doing work, I must say. Because first of all, as an organization, we have to purchase protective equipment for our staff… Even sometimes when they want to drop in to the office, we have to purchase extra equipment. We are also experiencing a lot of changes with the cost of internet and the cost of doing work because we’ve now had to purchase individualized equipment. And that is a huge cost to us. As an NGO, we have projects with a specific time limit. And so with the pandemic and us not being able to work, we’ve had to extend the length of these programs.

But what that means is that there are some expenses which we are not able to extend, for example, like staff and things like that. And that’s an increased cost.


How is that in any way affecting your funding?

Dr. Kaoma

We have had a mixed approach as far as funding is concerned. First of all, most of the NGOs get some of their money from corporate companies, some corporate companies have withdrawn. And we have felt the impact of that because some of our projects/funders have withdrawn their funding. But also it is been more cushioned by other donors who have been receptive and increased allocation or improved on the flexibility over our agreements to allow us to funnel or channel resources, to where they are needed.


You mentioned you do a lot of work with schools, and, currently, the pandemic and government measures that have been put in place include social distancing and the closure of institutions of learning. How are you responding to such challenges since you are not able to meet some of these target groups that you work with?

Dr. Kaoma

As an institution, I must say that flexibility is our best ability, and we have tried to be flexible in the way that we do our programming. There are certain programs which are supposed to be housed within the schools, which will not be able to do absolutely until the schools open. But one way we’ve been trying to reach out to, is to use platforms that are available. We’re doing a lot of things online. Just before I came for this interview, we were doing a webinar online to launch menstrual health day.

It’s just a bit of a challenge for rural areas because a lot of these places do not have good internet. For those areas, we have adapted to radio programming as a way of increasing reach to those areas. So that is one of the ways that we’re adapting. But also we are working with the same young people in the schools to ask them what would work in a time such as this. And some of them have continued to work through their WhatsApp groups and Facebook groups to share some of these messages because reproductive health will continue to go on even in the midst of a pandemic.


Lastly, what is your vision of the future?

Dr. Kaoma

First of all, before I talk about the vision, I must say that things will change.

“We will use this as an opportunity to do our work better and become more innovative.”

Coronavirus is not something that is only happening to us, but it is something that is happening to everyone. So we are not going to play the victim and feel bad, but we will use this as an opportunity to do our work better and become more innovative. For example, in the nonprofit sector in Zambia, people don’t like meetings that are not in-person, so we are using this to reach out to other partners to do more online meetings. And this has worked very well. And we are also collaborating with a lot of partners to see how we can do the same work with either reduced resources or reduced access to the people that we are working with. And my vision is that long-term we will use this as an opportunity to see the gaps in technology and see how best we can use this time to improve our technological advancements for us to reach people in rural areas.

This is a time for all of us around the world, doing business and doing all kinds of work to adapt, and failure to adapt is failure to progress. And this is one of those sink or swim kind of situations. So we will try our best to swim as fast as we can.


Thank you for your time. The Milken Institute and I thank you again for these insights. Goodbye and stay safe.

Dr. Kaoma

Thank you.

More analysis from COVID-19 Africa Watch:

COVID-19 Africa Watch tracks major developments and policy announcements from across the continent and also offers a curated selection of analysis on how the pandemic will impact African economies and development efforts. The site is a project of the Milken Institute’s Global Market Development Practice.

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via COVID-19 Africa Watch