Effective communication central to fight on Covid-19
There is a general perception that West and Central Africa regions were ready for the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of preparedness.
This observation has made many to wonder how the region appears to have been ready for a pandemic of such magnitude and yet it faces myriad other challenges, such as political upheavals, rise and spread of extremist groups, high levels of poverty and a severely constrained education and health system.
Boko Haram insurgency, rise of al Qaeda in the Maghreb and emergence of Islamic State cells in the region have all undermined development by leading to a deteriorating security situation, instigating mass migrations and causing major humanitarian and development crises in the Lake Chad Basin affecting 17 million people.
Coupled with these challenges that are overstretching the region’s health budgets and capacities of humanitarian agencies, are the sporadic dangerous disease outbreaks such as Ebola, Zika viruses and Buruli Ulcers.
Perhaps the perception that the region appears to have been ready for Covid-19 stems from our past misfortunes of dealing with perilous outbreaks.
Our hard-to-forget experiences with Zika Virus, Buruli ulcers and more recently Ebola helped enrich our knowledge pool as we were forced to suffer deadly emerging viruses.
These sporadic and fatalistic outbreaks bolstered our resilience and capacity to adapt.
Secondly, once the novel Coronavirus emerged, we had ample time to ready ourselves recalling our experiences.
Given such an outlook, it is imperative that Africa builds on the lessons learned to ensure we respond more effectively to Covid-19.
In as much as the African continent may not be having strong health systems as compared to other regions in the world, it is clear we are leveraging on the continental experience of dealing with Ebola and so far it seems that Africa is performing relatively well.
At the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) our priority has been the enhancement of public communications as a crisis management tool.
Covid-19 also comes with the greater public responsibility tagging alongside the social ill of stigma.
This is a lesson we learnt from the past as communities resisted attending health facilities for fear of contracting Ebola.
We are seeing the same pattern with Covid-19. Our concern was especially drawn to myriad cases among pregnant women who needed treatment or were about to deliver, posing a serious threat to maternal and neonatal health that resulted in increased morbidity and mortality.
Given the serious implications posed by Covid-19 to national economies and social political structures, strategic and well-timed mass communication messaging becomes an important ally of public health as it helps demystify the science, simplifies the medical language and curtails misconceptions.
At a time when governments are implementing tough public health measures such as social distancing, lockdowns and curfews it is vitally important that they help the public understand why certain measures are important.
Our experience shows that when we reached out to communities with the right information we expunged all stigma associated with the diseases.
It is in this light that public health communication needs to incorporate communities at the grassroots. —The writer is the Regional Director of UNFPA, West and Central Africa