By Nelson Manneh
The African Academy of Languages (ACALAN) in partnership with the Centre for Linguistic and Historical Studies by Oral Tradition (CELHTO) recently engaged health authorities all over Africa on the ‘Engagement of Traditional and Religious structures as a Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) Strategy in COVID-19 Response.’
The program took place on Tuesday September 15th, 2020, via Zoom meeting.
Modou Njai, the Director of Health Promotion and Education at the Ministry of Health, who served as a resource person during the Zoom meeting, said the objective of RCCE is to develop, organize and guide information dissemination to the general public and affected communities.
He said it is also meant to install and maintain public confidence and trust in public health interventions, institutions and personnel.
“It is also meant to provide information in a timely and appropriate manner and address inaccuracies/rumours to minimize stigmatization, discrimination, fear and panic among the general public. Mobilise and engage communities to develop positive attitude and behaviours that prevent and/or reduce COVID-19 transmission and foster reintegration of survivals in the community among others,” he said.
Director Njai presented that the progress of RCCE in The Gambia include committees conducting weekly meetings and recently online meetings through Zoom meeting to plan and coordinate COVID-19 RCCE activities and guideline developed on the “Use of Social Media to Manage Information about COVID-19.”
“A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was developed for the operationalisation of MoH call centre established and operating 24hrs using the toll-free line and Regional RCCE committees were established in all the 7 Health Regions in the country,” he said.
Njai told Professors during the meeting that The Gambia has a toll-free line (1025) secured through PURA from GSM companies where the public calls’ are processed for information sharing, enhancing contact tracing and facilitating COVID-19 response.
He said a functional call centre was established and operating 24hrs using the toll free line and a dedicated team of 35 MoH staff were identified, trained and operating the 24hrs toll-free line on shift duties and country specific messages and materials on COVID-19 developed for RCCE communication interventions.
On the progress of RCCE activities in The Gambia, Njai said the RCCE Committee engaged community leaders and family members and the positive person in Numuyel to accept to be evacuated for quarantine in Basse.
He said the RCCE Committee also engaged district authorities, religious and opinion leaders, youth representative and Village Development Committee Members on the State of Public Emergency Declaration and the effective implementation of the cross-border initiative on COVID-19.
“IOM is currently working with the Regional Health Directorates to engage border communities in URR, NBRW, CRR, LRR and NBRE on COVID-19,” he said.
Director Njai said the challenge in the fight against COVID-19 is compounded by the rapid spread of myths and misleading information through social media and other unofficial sources.
“The Gambia’s cultural, traditional and religious practices allow for a closer interaction at the household level, ceremonies, “bantaba” chatting (gathering place), religious and community gatherings, “osusu” (women microfinance platform) or street camps, just to name a few. These gatherings provide a fertile ground for the spread of COVID-19 and an exponential increase in our infection rate,” he said.
Njai further said 40 district chiefs were engaged in developing community action plans for implementation and the chiefs who were engaged embarked on the step-down orientation of 1,200 village heads on COVID-19 across the country of 1,889 communities.
“The 40 District Chiefs engaged also embarked on participatory and supervision of the step-down orientation of household heads on COVID-19 and stronger collaboration and partnership exists between the National and sub-National RCCE Committees on COVID-19,” he said.
Director Njai at the end of his presentations recommended that countries need to engage cultural, traditional, religious leaders, key influencers, and district chiefs and women leaders on COVID-19 message dissemination.
“There is need for the development and implementation of community, action plans on COVID-19 and to support the scaling-up of COVID-19 RCCE interventions among other recommendations,” he noted.