With almost a million recorded cases of the disease worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has required action from all corners of the globe. Here’s how ICS volunteers are tackling it.
We’re distributing hygiene advice to 400,000 people
Experts fear that the impact of COVID-19 on life in East Africa’s biggest economy will be huge.
How quickly quality public health information can be distributed – and implemented – among Kenya’s 50 million-strong population will play a huge part in saving people and getting life back to normal.
“To ‘flatten the curve’ of the outbreak right now, information is our strongest weapon,” said ICS Team Leader Shila Salim, 30. “People here are oblivious to the danger of coronavirus. We need to step up sensitisation to communities all over Kenya as it is the poorest who are most at risk.”
ICS volunteers like Shila have been involved in the #VolunteersAgainstCovid19 campaign, using short public health videos to explain the concepts around social distancing and self-isolation.
Using verified advice from the World Health Organisation, they’ve shared messages in Swahili, English and even Kenyan Sign Language through existing social media networks across 10 counties.
Their work is estimated to have reached almost 400,000 people.
Clean water and good hygiene are vital to stop the spread of the virus. But in sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank estimates 75% of people in rural areas lack adequate handwashing facilities.
“Access to water is still a challenge in not only the rural areas but also in the urban towns where we have to purchase water for daily use,” added Shila. “I appeal to the government to ensure efforts are doubled for clean water for all and take action to curb the hike of water prices.”
We’re sharing health advice with 150 youth club networks
In Bangladesh, one of the poorest and densest countries in the world, social distancing isn’t easy. Dhaka, its capital, is home to more than eight million people.
With just 29 intensive care beds to serve the entire country of 165 million, protecting the vulnerable through accessible health information is a necessity before the situation worsens.
“It’s vital to get reliable health information out to Bangladesh’s wider population right now,” said VSO alumni Mofazzal Hossain, 27. “People are still going for prayer at the mosque. People still believe coronavirus is a curse from God. People are refusing to follow advice on quarantining.”
Mofazzal is a local TV journalist who lives in the northern Bangladesh district of Dinajpur. As part of a team of returned volunteers, he’s using youth club networks developed during their volunteer placements to share health information with young people around the country.
A Facebook page they’ve set up has 150 members and growing, and last week members of his team took part in a training session led by VSO experts on preparing communities for the outbreak. The aim? To pass on the knowledge to over 150 youth clubs already supported by VSO volunteers.
“People are ignoring government advice on social distancing for many reasons,” added Mofazzal. “It’s high time for the government to lock down the whole country – but first they need to ensure their communications are free of bias. As volunteers, we’re doing a better job of that right now.”
We’re combatting #FakeNews and sharing reputable information
These rumors are dangerous and can have harmful consequences. After ensuring the safety of all volunteers who returned home after cancelled ICS placements, the ICS team are working hard to provide communities with only authentic and official guidelines during this troubling time.
“With the quick rate at which the coronavirus is spreading, sometimes with little information known about it, it’s understandable that most of us are overwhelmed, worried and panicking,” explained VSO ICS Project Manager, Mwaka Azariah Mulenga.
“It’s all our duty to know and understand the basic but authentic facts about the virus, including symptoms, complications, how its spread and best practices for prevention of transmission. We should be aware of fake news and be careful not to spread false information.”
Read more about combatting #FakeNews on Restless Development’s blog.
We’re working with local governments to reach the most marginalised
Coronavirus has been reported in at least 46 of Africa’s 54 countries. In Uganda, the country is on a temporary lockdown to stop the spread of the virus, which has so far infected 30 people.
To raise awareness of the disease, Ugandan pop star Bobi Wine has released a song called ‘Corona Virus Alert’ to keep the population aware about handwashing and social distancing.
However, not every community has access to radios, televisions or the internet – and other approaches need to be identified to spread information to these marginalised communities.
In Uganda, ICS alumni are working with the local government by supporting local taskforces by raising awareness on megaphones and loud portable speakers throughout villages.
Margaret Balikagala, who is the ICS programme manager in Uganda, explains the importance of spreading the message to areas such as refugee camps in the Madi Okollo district.
“Due to the limited media coverage for some communities, ICS alumni are using megaphones in some of the least fortunate communities to sensitise communities on what coronavirus is and how to prevent themselves from contracting it,” said Margaret.
“The use of megaphones is also important for any updates in the country, for example, the ban on public and private transport.”
ICS alumni are also writing and sharing blogs to spread the importance of handwashing and social distancing. Nicholas Omoko, 23, is a Ugandan volunteer from Kampala who is sharing a blog on his social media to ensure the message gets out to his friends and family.
“To me, the most important tool in fighting the virus is information. Creating awareness on the coronavirus, how to prevent it and how we can help will make a big impact in ending this pandemic,” explained Nicholas.
We’re translating key messaging into local languages
Coronavirus doesn’t care what language we speak: we are all at risk. However, millions of people who speak lesser-known languages don't have a single resource on the virus yet. The information gap is enormous – and lives are at stake.
ICS Tanzania is working with the National Youth Engagement Network (NYEN) to translate resources into Swahili for local communities who may not speak English and are need of reputable information on how to stay safe.
Fred Rugabwa, from Dodoma, has been a part of NYEN for nine months now and worked with ICS Tanzania to translate English posters into Swahili, which will be circulated on social media.
“Translating posters means that communities are able to receive the correct information surrounding coronavirus,” he said. “By raising awareness to many individuals about how the virus is spread and its prevention will help to control the disease.”
He is passionate about the importance of volunteering at this time.
“Together it makes the process of educating people about the preventative and safety measures much easier – and can make a huge impact in slowing the spread of coronavirus,” he added.