Community engagement is a cornerstone of successful risk communication. Garnering and demonstrating widespread public support of public health and social measures, such as wearing a mask or social distancing, leads to better public compliance and mitigates the impact of the deadly coronavirus.
As weeks turned to months, fatigue over adhering to COVID-19 restrictions has set in—but the virus isn’t tired. Millions of lives remain in jeopardy. Now more than ever, continuous, effective communication of the importance of masking, physical distancing and hand washing is needed to ensure protective behaviors by the public.
To reach millions of people in Francophone Africa, Vital Strategies, a global health organization, is working closely with Association pour la Defense des Droits des Consommateaurs (ADC), a civil society group that has partnered with Ministries of Health in Chad, Togo, Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso. ADC is using their media connections to generate widespread community buy-in and awareness of the importance of protective measures, from personal behaviors like masking to compliance with regulations such as shelter-in-place orders.
Each country is mounting a campaign of wide-reaching radio spots that encourage mask wearing, hand-washing and physical distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The spots were translated to reach diverse communities in their own native languages and dialects. To date, over 35 radio spots have been created in 7 languages including French, Chadian Arabic, Hausa, Sango, Zarma and Kanori.
“Messages were coming through but not always from trusted sources, so we took those messages and brought them to respected women community leaders and to doctors who had had COVID-19 so their words would resonate with the public. We also translated them into local languages besides French and Arabic. And we brought messages to people where there are risks, like the marketplaces,” shared Daouda Adam, who manages the Vital Strategies COVID-19 Risk Communication project in Chad through the NGO Association pour la Defense des Droits des Consommateurs (ADC).
ADC took the work a step further in Chad by launching a grassroots COVID-19 prevention campaign in Ndjamena Great Market, one of the major community hubs in Chad. Informational posters are posted across the nation, and a community outreach campaign was designed for high-traffic markets where the public will have to be extra vigilant about social distancing and masking. Volunteers will be dispatched to the markets—complete with face masks and customized t-shirts—to share COVID-19 messages with shoppers and workers. A video was also produced featuring a well-known doctor who was diagnosed with COVID-19, to further emphasize the severity of the outbreak to Chadians through a trusted source.
Traditional media outlets amplified the impact of these community efforts, generating national coverage by leading television stations and widely circulated newspapers. National and regional radio coverage soon followed, and virtual versions of the posters have been broadcast on WhatsApp, a popular communication platform. This grassroots movement has spread to an additional 12 high-traffic marketplaces.
While there are challenges, the regional effort continues to push out a drumbeat of supportive and persuasive materials in more and more communities, engaging with trusted community leaders and generating significant media coverage. Within the last two weeks, Togo, Niger and Benin had all held press releases to launch the start of their COVID-19 prevention campaigns. Additionally, Togo, Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger, The Gambia, Senegal and Sierra Leone all have adapted radio scripts and launched them in additional local languages.
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