Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Combating Rumours and Misinformation on COVID 19

By James Achanyi Fontem, camlinknews
The subject of stigma is a serious one, but how do we effectively communicate the fact that COVID-19 is not a guaranteed death sentence". In the first place, why even use the term "death sentence"? Although you cite a mortality rate of 1.8% we find this untenable. Several meta-studies from the countries that recorded covid19 cases earlier than Cameroon did show an infection fatality rate of 1.5% at most with many of them being under 1%. Even so, when we have such firm data, this places covid19 as no more dangerous than a seasonal illness, which health administrations in all countries are no strangers to. The burden of disease from the usual set of infectious and opportunistic diseases (such as malaria, enteric fevers, respiratory tract diseases, tuberculosis etc), plus the rising number of non communicable diseases, is a much greater priority. What we suggest networks must do is counter the actual epidemic which is the broadcasting of a fear mindset The CORE Group Polio Project is working to shape context-specific responses to growing cases of COVID-19 social stigma in Cameroon project areas. We are striving to identify, share and rapidly analyze how best to reduce stigma by drawing from our work in the areas of polio, measles, and zoonotic disease surveillance activities under Global Health Security. “Addressing stigma is key to overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic." The CORE Group Polio Project is based upon the concept that disease outbreaks are best identified and interrupted at the community level. We know that stigma based on fear and misinformation is contributing to the ongoing COVID-19 community transmission in many of our local communities. Like many of you reading this report, we need practical guidance to shape our response to the prevalence of COVID-19 social stigma. We are aiming to develop several simple, practical messages for field staff and community volunteers by leveraging the critical engagement of trusted persons. We are guided by three basic questions: What does stigma look like? What are the root causes? What is the impact? From there, we have been attempting to determine what sort of risk communication and community engagement strategies or lessons learned from polio can be applied to curb stigma for COVID-19. What strategies need to be tweaked for COVID-19? What other approaches should we consider? In Abo Health District, stigma driven by fear and misinformation is quickly emerging as the primary concern, while in other parts of Cameroon, stigma is the secondary challenge, followed by a low perception of risk. According to health officials, “It is harder and harder to fight the pandemic. Cases are going up. Deaths are going up.” Most people are aware of COVID-19 but do not adhere to prevention measures such as social/physical distancing, hand washing hygiene or use of face masks. However, there is a pervasive fear of testing due to the possibility of a positive result. Individuals who test positive and share results with family and friends face the risk of being rejected and end up afraid and isolated. This fear of rejection leads to COVID-19 patients refusing to reveal contacts to avoid further discrimination. Quarantine means risk of job loss and loss of income. These behaviors result in harmful effects: individuals are not getting tested, hiding their illness, and not practicing healthy behaviours. Abo Health District now faces a double-burden. Not only is there fear of the effects of quarantine on survival, but there is also a widespread belief that COVID-19 positivity equates to death. From observations in the field, there is a low awareness of the recovery rate. This misinformation is driving stigma. For one, we need to develop tools that explicitly communicate that the majority of COVID-19 cases are recovering in greater numbers than those dying from the disease. In June alone, the district reported 9 cases, with 3 dead and 6 recovered: How do we effectively communicate the fact that COVID-19 is not a guaranteed death sentence? How do we tap community knowledge to find solutions: can we enlist the support of those who have recovered (survivors) from COVID-19 to serve as sympathetic role models to expand the circle of influencers? How do we achieve the desired health impact by engaging community members, leaders, and groups who provide reliable and accurate information? Abo Health District is in the midst of forming a Cameroon Link peace deal between the population and health officials on finding solutions to the current situation because there are many displaced persons within the communities. In Cameroon as a whole, the need to address stigma is a “major, major, major issue,” reported by health officials. Low risk perception is presently driving the pandemic. A May 2020 risk perception survey from Bonaberi-Douala showed that more than half of respondents “believe COVID-19 is fake …” and adherence to physical distancing and use of face masks is low. There is a fear of testing due to stigmatization; those who test positive are hiding due to the fear of being ostracized. Based on lessons learned from polio, the engagement of traditional and religious leaders successfully countered the myths and misconceptions in polio high-risk areas. We are leveraging the polio platform to address stigma in the low-literate rural communties. Drawing from the past successes with the engagement of traditional and religious leaders, Cameroon is now working with trusted and well-informed faith-based leaders to battled COVID-19. To address stigma, a mapping of critical stakeholders is ongoing to identifyCatholic schoolteachers, and church and mosque leaders. In Bonaberi, the engagement of critical leaders has won out over radio jingles to address misinformation. Community Health Workers (CHW) are conducting house to house visits, carrying with them IEC materials to share accurate information on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and how to seek help if sick. In addition to the CHW-trained community informants are part of the robust surveillance network which now helps to identify suspected COVID-19 cases in addition to HIV and tuberculosis cases. Cameroon Link is working with Community Health Volunteers to reach high-risk nomadic dis^laced persons and pastoralists with information on COVID-19 risk and prevention measures. This vulnerable population, which moves continuously with its animals owing to their livelihoods and culture, is facing multiple sources of severe stigmatization, including from urban dwellers who believe they are responsible for driving the disease across borders and health districts. Along the rural borders, pastoralists are being denied access to grazing and watering sites due to fear of spread COVID-19; these restrictions can easily escalate into conflict. Furthermore, COVID-19 is fueling stigma and elevating fear and tension between internallydisplaced persons and host communities.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Why are people not wearing COVID 19 masks

By James Achanyi Fontem, camlinknews
How the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds in the coming months in Cameroon is our focus in this article. It has been noted that the behaviour of Cameroonians and not medicines or ventilators, that will determine the severity of its impact. This is the repeated message from public health experts, Cameroon’s Minister of public health and the Prime Minister, Chief Professor John Ngute. Cameroon as a country and particularly the Ministry of Public Health, have done the important work of disseminating accurate information in the early stages of the pandemic. However, people are now at a point where they need a more complex approach if any hope of achieving the deeper and more sustained behaviour changes are required. Cameroonians know what they need to do. Wear a mask in public, wash hands frequently and keep their distance. Getting people to adopt these behaviours seems as if it should be simple. Cameroon Link thinks that spending millions on catchy slogans and beautiful billboards, pamphlets, and public service announcements will work. If this is done frequently enough people will change their behaviour. But Unfortunately, the evidence shows that this is not the case. If it did, many would smoke, abuse alcohol or contract HIV/Aids. Changing behaviours Fortunately, there is a wealth of evidence gleaned from both local and international experience for what constitutes best practice in behaviour change campaigns. There are two major learnings from these experiences. First, Cameroon Link cannot assume to know why people do or do not act in a certain way. It is necessary to find out through a research process that asks them. For example, Cameroon Link is developing a campaign called Fathers’ Issues to promote the active positive presence of men in the lives of children, something that research has proven to have a significant impact on children's wellbeing. There is a common assumption that many men aren't involved in their children's lives simply because they are dead dads who are uncaring and unconcerned. Cameroon Link investigators painted a different picture which shows that many men were not involved because there is a pervasive attitude out there that if the government can't provide financially, they are not seen as proper fathers. This has affected substantially the messages that underpin ministry of public health campaigns. By rooting our messaging in what we have learnt, and are addressing the real barriers to change, we ensure a greater probability of positive behaviour change. Cameroon Link founded in 1991, became globally acknowledged for changing the health behaviour of thousands of Cameroonian mothers through exclusive breastfeeding campaigns and radio dramas as well as print and other resources and interventions. One Cameroon Link intervention was developed to promote breastfeeding, as it has been shown to be a key intervention in the promotion of child health. In the development of this series, research showed that women knew this was best for their baby. However, there were several obstacles at community and social level that prevented them from doing so. The young mother newly arrived in an urban area often had no one to support her as they reported that breastfeeding is not easy and as such gave up. The working mother had to give up breastfeeding when she went back to work because there was nowhere for her to express or store her milk. So instead of Cameroon Link trying to persuade women that breastfeeding was the right thing to do, it focused on overcoming these barriers. Cameroon Link encouraged older mothers to support younger ones in their communities, and employers to support mothers on their return to work.
It is important to note, that human behaviour is seldom linear, where message plus person equals behaviour. Humans are complex and thus theories that help us to understand these complexities can give actors a framework to direct their research into why we do or do not behave in a certain way. The findings then become the basis for messaging and interventions. Individuals are not islands There is a range of such theories - one that is particularly useful is the socio-ecological model which illustrates the interplay between the different factors that encourage or impede our behaviour. The socio-ecological model The basis for this theory is the understanding that as individuals we are not islands. Rather, we are social beings who are deeply influenced by the beliefs and actions of the people who make up our relationships and the broader community. What we do, we perceive as being "normal" behaviour. For example, if your friends and community believe it is 'normal' to beat a woman to discipline her, you will grow up believing the same thing. But not all these relationships have an equal influence on us. There are some people who can have an outside influence on our behaviour, such as a reverend priest, bishop, pastor, a cool kid or even a gang leader. So, we may know that it is the right thing to wear a mask, but if it does not seem like the "normal" or "cool" thing to do, then we will be unlikely to do it. Some people like to be "abnormal" or "uncool". But there is another layer of influence that is particularly important to consider. Our behaviour is not just influenced by the people around us - we are often more influenced by those that make up our 'virtual' community. These are the people we have never met who flicker across our screens and whose voices we hear on radio, such as sports personalities and political and religious leaders. Included in this group would be so-called social media influencers such as actresses and sports’ team captains. These people have a massive influence on the norms and values of our societies. Did the United States of America, President Donald Trump not wearing a mask send an extraordinarily strong message to Americans that masks are not normal or necessary? This message was received around the world, though it was a negative message. Even fictional characters can influence us. In the TV series we watch. How we behave is also influenced by societal factors like laws, infrastructure, economics, availability of supplies and so on, that either enable or act as an obstacle to the adoption of a behaviour. For instance, we may want to wash our hands often, but if we have no running water in my community or we can't afford sanitiser, then we can't do it. Not having running water is like promoting immunization against measles, but having no measles vaccine in the local clinic is also a problem. Therefore, as we seek for instances to promote the wearing of masks, we should aim to find out why people are not wearing them. At an individual level, is it because of lack of knowledge? At a relational and community level, is it because people we look up to are not wearing them and they don't want to be "abnormal" or "uncool", or are there myths that make people scared to wear them? At a societal level, could it be that they cannot afford them? We would also seek to find out who their influencers are so that in programming we could seek to use them.
We need to know this to design campaigns that have any hope of success. It is not one size fits all. We also need to understand that enablers and barriers may vary. The reasons people in rural parts of Cameroon are not wearing masks may be quite different from urban Yaounde or Douala. The only factor that will determine the future of this epidemic's impact on our lives and livelihoods will not be more intensive care unit beds, nurses, and doctors, but our behaviours. In the early stages of the epidemic, we did not need to consult with people; we simply needed to quickly get information to them and this seems to have been well done. But now, despite this information, many of us are not wearing masks and adopting the other preventive behaviours we need. The result is that infections are skyrocketing. We need to urgently set up an ongoing research process that is underpinned by theory, that gives us insight into why we behave the way we do. This can be done quickly. This information should be the source of all of our messaging and programming. This does not need to delay our efforts, but merely strengthen them.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

What Are We Learning about COVID-19?

By James Achanyi Fontem, camlinknews Many thanks to everyone who either submitted and/or followed our work and assisted us in sharing this article about “Best Strategies for combating COVID 19”.The purpose of our dialogues was peer-to-peer support for our work. There have been 10,000 interactions on social media posts, full email opens and other channels through 500 user sessions across our common field of work in Cameroon. All feedback on the added value of this dialogue to our work would be most welcome.
Now that so many in Cameroon are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic we would like to share updates on the question: “WHAT ARE WE LEARNING?” COVID-19 poses some serious challenges for all who use information and engagement strategies to pursue their goals. So, what are we learning about what works best? Some starter questions could also include: Which strategies seem to work? Which new strategies do we need to adopt? Which present strategies do we need to adapt? What research is urgently required? What are the main challenges on which you would welcome suggestions and other input? What works for policy engagement on the overall country and global strategies that are being developed? Other learning? Whether you are working through community engagement, social change, entertainment-education, behavioural science and change, media development, freedom of expression, public interest media, social marketing, campaigns, message development, social media, social networks, social movement or any other strand of an information and engagement strategy , we humbly request you to share with us what you are learning in support of this struggle that continues.... Thanks in advance for engaging to share your learning in support of the work of others. It has been noted that gender-responsive design, implementation and monitoring of humanitarian programmes rely heavily on consultations, community-based approaches and face-to-face interactions with women and men, which are severely impacted by COVID-19 containment measures. As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rises among the estimated 60,000 refugees in Cameroon residing in the overcrowded, makeshift camps in the Far North and East regions of Kousseri and Garoua Boulai health districts, humanitarian agencies must change the ways they deliver programmes in order to maintain physical distancing and adhere to strict hygiene protocols. By examining how these changes are impacting the ability to deliver gender-responsive and gender-sensitive programmes (GSP), Cameroon Link hopes in this report to inform humanitarian responders and enable them to consider strategies to mitigate any risks. Cameroon Link is saying here that, since 2018, gender actors in in the border regions of the far north and east regions of Cameroon have been working to focus the humanitarian response to the specific needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups. They have, for example, promoted gender equality through gender mainstreaming and used advocacy and other approaches to support the empowerment of women and girls. However, with community engagement strategies needing adaptation to COVID-19 containment measures, and some key initiatives such as capacity-building around women's leadership being largely placed on hold, the concern is that gains achieved in the past years could be reversed. To understand the situation, Cameroon Link has conducted key informant interviews from June 14-27 2020 with community radio stations in the regions working with the support of Farm Radio International Canada across local communities the humanitarian actors in the refugee settlement regions. The survey also examined publicly available secondary data and the analysis identified risks such as: • Given the rapid pace of the COVID-19 response, GSP may not be prioritised because it is not considered life-saving, and protection issues may be overlooked during a time where protection needs are actually increasing - creating further discrimination, exploitation, and unequal access to services. While temperatures in the far north are very high, it is raining in the east region which is equatorial forest region. • Limited access of gender and protection staff to the field due to COVID-19 restrictions entails risk that the response will be unable to quickly identify and respond to urgent gender and protection needs going forward. • In addition to facing increased insecurity in the camps, Cameroon Link female volunteers report being stigmatised and harassed due to their association with international humanitarian workers, who are perceived as vectors of the disease. Furthermore, socially restrictive norms limit the access of women and girls to public spheres; women who do not strictly adhere to these norms often experience backlash. The resultant reduced presence of female staff and volunteers could diminish humanitarians' ability to equally serve women and men. In the strict social-religious context of Cameroon Link, it is not acceptable for women to substantially interact with men outside of their households, which is why the presence of female staff and volunteers is essential to delivering humanitarian assistance and services to women. • COVID-19 has disrupted face-to-face interactions in safe places such as women friendly spaces (WFS), which have been a key way to reach those in need of safe gender-based violence (GBV) - the rates of which are elevated during lockdown - and child protection case management and referrals. Movement and access restrictions limit the ability of case managers to interview survivors privately and confidentially, and our staff report that women do not trust or feel comfortable using phones for such sensitive issues. • Poor mobile and internet connections have made it difficult to inform the population of changes to services and of COVID-19 developments, as well as to ensure they have access to humanitarian services. This is particularly the case for women as well as children and the elderly, who are substantially less likely than men to have access to and/or time to use mobile communication. • Essential awareness messages not specific to COVID-19, such as on GBV, sexual and reproductive health (SRH), and gender, often disseminated through distribution sites and service centres, may not be prioritised over public health messages. Moreover, public health messages are not always gender-responsive, resulting in information being either inaccessible to women and girls in format and content or not relevant to them. • Providing essential information and ensuring continuous engagement and consultation with the affected population is challenging in the COVID-19 context, especially for women, girls, and other vulnerable populations with less access to public space. Specifically, the voices of women and other marginalized groups are likely to be underrepresented when relying solely on the remote data collection methods that are necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, there are some potential benefits to emerge from this situation; for instance: • The increased role of Cameroon Link volunteers in the response necessitated by restrictions on official humanitarian workers presents an opportunity to build on past efforts to empower refugee volunteers, especially women, to work within their own communities to identify problems, and solutions. Specifically, more than 20 volunteers across 4 camps and adjacent communities are conducting awareness sessions and outreach to the most vulnerable to disseminate life-saving messages. Despite social and cultural challenges, Cameroon Link women in particular have been self-mobilising, forming networks, and raising awareness on COVID-19 across all camps. • Major changes in distributions, particularly door-to-door modalities, have some positive impacts on gender-sensitive programming, including: reducing the need for vulnerable households, particularly female-headed households, to travel to distribution points and carry heavy items; ensuring that distributed goods like menstrual hygiene management kits make it to households; and helping deliver life-saving messages door to door to those with less access to public spaces who would not normally receive such messages.
• Some gender experts highlighted that, as their normal protection programmes have been put on hold due to the restrictions, they have been able to shift their attention to increasing capacity to strengthen gender and protection mainstreaming in essential assistance and services such as isolation and treatment centres. • Reportedly, funding for gender programming has not been negatively impacted in the short term by the COVID-19 pandemic, but this will not continue for long if Cameroon Link gets to fund unavailability.

Role of Community Radio Stations in the Fight with COVID 19

By James Achanyi-Fontem, camlinknews During lockdowns ordered as part of COVID-19 prevention, people are advised to remain at home. "Stay home and stay safe" is a very famous tagline in these days in Cameroon. During this period, people are using different information and communication technologies (ICTs) for giving and receiving information, and for education on many aspects. People are also using YouTube, social media such as WhatsApp, and many other sources on the internet.
Community radio is a local and participatory medium of communication that provides information to the rural community in local languages. It is the radio by the people for the people. In Cameroon, half the population lives in rural areas and the majority of people are poor . It is often very difficult for them to access the internet. In this situation, community radio - a local and participatory type of radio - plays a very important role in disseminating information among the rural community. Rural people want valid and reliable information on COVID 19. During this time, community radio plays a very important role in broadcasting information on Corona. Presently, over 100 community radio stations are operational in Cameroon. They broadcast different programmes on different issues, including what protections to take to protect oneself from Corona, such as social distancing information. Community radio programmes on COVID 19 1. University community radio stations in Buea, Douala, Yaoundé, Ngaounder and Bafoussam are our focus in thi article. They are broadcasting programmes like "Break the Fake News Chain" to make the community aware about COVID 19. 2. These community radio stations are broadcasting programmes on health - with a special focus on mental health, ways to deal with alcohol withdrawal, spotlights on various initiatives by individuals Civil Society Organisations (CSO)and nNon-governmental organizations (NGOs), appeals on understanding facts and the importance of fighting misinformation, and community testimonies. 3. The radio stations are running programmes with titles in various national languages and English and French to reach all target groups within their communities. Broadcasters use different stories from the communities as testimonies to convey messages related to coronavirus. They also broadcast programmes on importance of social distancing, sanitizing, handwashing, etc. 4. Some of the radio stations are providing online information to the community; though these stations are operate with minimum staff. After live broadcasts, they shift all programmes to digital mode. Listeners are encouraged to develop 5-minute audio and upload them to YouTube and Facebook, while authorities also take follow-up measures on digital platforms.
5. Most of the stations broadcast information received from the health district collectors, chief medical officers, and other government authorities, including entitlements of extended schemes. These stations broadcast the programme "24 / 24" to permit those who missed the broadcasts in the day to receive them at night time. Some of the programmes feature messages from an expert along with a thematic poem on frequent handwashing, access to healthcare services, physical distancing, importance of sports, and time for self-learning on a daily basis to spread positivity in people. FRI Canada provides information on the coronavirus outbreak through scripts which are discussed with folk songs. Some sessions are live and some are interactive. In the period of lockdown, visits to each and every village are not possible. In this case, community radio and information through the digital mode is very important to make the community aware of different issues. 6. There are also broadcasts on timings and locations of weekly markets days , adhering to rules on safe distance, and the status of local ATMs in local language. This radio stations work as fact checkers in the lockdown situation. The stations are playing a very important role in educating people about the outbreak of COVID-19. 7. Most community radio stations provide a voice to underprivileged groups of societyand shares information about the pandemic. Thus, we can say that community radio plays a very important role in dissemination of need-based information among the rural community.

Friday, July 10, 2020

COVID-19 Response in Emergency

Preparedness and Response in a Rapidly Changing Global Landscape By James Achanyi Fontem, camlinknew This COVID-19 Coordination Call is part of a weekly series organised by Cameroonlink which seeks to showcase some creative and innovative approaches being adopted in real time to prepare and respond to the many needs of partners working on the ground around COVID-19. The goal is to identify creative solutions so that those who are most vulnerable get the support and services they desrve.
In the call, Cameroon Link moderates a panel of presenters, followed by a related discussion based on questions submitted by the audience. At the end, we share some of the latest key resources that have been posted in the camlinknews Presentations for the coordination call includes: Global Readiness for Major Disease Outbreak Response The Readiness initiative seeks to augment what already exists to build the capacity of Cicivl Society Organisation (CSO) and Non-governmental organisations (NGO) to respond to infectious disease outbreaks. Its 3 primary objectives are to: (i) improve CSO and NGO coordination, (ii) (ii) strengthen operational capacity, and (iii) (iii) adapt and develop technical readiness. Readiness is a partnership of organisations led by Save the Children. The presentation explains how Readiness was initiated to address gaps in the CSO and NGO response to disease outbreaks, and then outlines what they have done in relation to COVID-19, which includes: running COVID-19 readiness workshops across Cameroon, covering a range of issues including social and behaviour change communication and risk communication and community engagement to support national coordination mechanisms; and developing guidance documents. A number of lessons learned are shared that emerged from the workshops. They include the fact that there is a lack of community case management training among CBOs and NGOs and that COVID-19 guidelines are often removed from the lived reality of individuals. Evidence-based COVID-19 Response Training and Education Cameroon Link is a national health organisation that focuses on health system capacity building. They are on the frontlines of COVID-19 since November 2019, as they have a head office in Grand Hangar-Bonaberi, Douala City neighbourhood. This presentation describes Cameroon Link’s early response activities in several health districts of the country and how these were rolled out globally. One aspect of its response was the development of a readiness and response curriculum and training for community healthcare workers and frontline personnel. The presentation describes the training topics and how the training was designed to address the need to reach a lot of people remotely and in contexts where one size does not fit all. The model Cameroon Link developed involved, among other things, the train-the-trainers methodology with the support of IRESCO Cameroon, which allows for localisation of training and ownership. It also: made use of innovative delivery methods, which entailed work with partners to identify participants and coordinating the training designed to be flexible to allow content to be updated on an ongoing basis. COVID-19 - Community Perspectives Inform the Emergency Response This focuses on the work being done by Cameroon Link around community engagement, which includes misinformation management, establishing community feedback mechanisms, and creating stigma prevention messaging. Related to this, 6 lessons are shared that highlight the importance, among other things, of building trust, listening to the community, and keeping engagement dynamic and agile in a changing environment. The activity also offered 4 solutions guiding the work of Cameroon Link, especially around ABO Health District in the Littoral region of Cameroon. The project initiative emphasizes on including citizen listening and rumour tracking through surveys to inform community engagement and response, as well as building trust by working with key influencers. With the need to move away from face-to-face interaction, quoting a few examples of how Cameroon Link currently engages with communities and discusses, such as the use of community radio national network and hotlines.
Pioneering Local Manufacturing of prevention kits for Better Aid Cameroon Link looks at the work of Field Readiness, an organisation that seeks to address the issue of emergency equipment supply chains and the fact that 70-90% of aid is spent on logistics, as well as the fact that importing equipment from other countries causes unnecessary delays. Through 3D design, it has been able to move manufacturing closer to where items are required. The impacts are discussed, which include cost reduction and support to livelihoods and local business. A number of examples are offered, such as a simple umbilical cord clip and buckets for use in humanitarian crisis situations. In relation to COVID-19. Cameroon Link has activated the local manufacture of personal protective equipment like masks and health and hygiene equipment like buckets and soap. Here, people who have been trained in digital design and manufacturing are making a range of items. They are being supported by technical teams who test the designs before they go into larger production. From June 15, 2020, Cameroon Link began a series of weekly calls of community radio stations with the support of Farm Radio International Canada to convene members and partners to join the network and discuss their institutional positions around a range of topics related to COVID-19 in an effort to coordinate and support the national pandemic response in Cameroon. During each call, people sign up the Farm Radio International partnership agreement for discussion on opportunities and ask questions or share inputs. These discussions are included in the recording sheets of Farm Radio Intenational Canada as the key supporter of Cameroon Link initiatives on COVID 19.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

COVID-19 and Community Ownership in Cameroon

By James Achanyi Fontem, camlinknews It has been noted that a major problem of disease management and research, especially diseases that are sporadic, fatal and viral, is the lack of people-inclusive and empowerment strategies. In Cameroon, communities are basically beneficiaries of a hands-out process rather than a hands-on outcome. This is the case of the alarmist COVID-19 pandemic.
Such a top-down approach has sometimes left the mitigating measures of COVID-19 only in the hands of government, public officials, and elites’ club. This disempowers the main target groups in local communities from a domesticating, indigenous and home-grown discourse. While this is universally understood as a legitimate responsibility of government who should be accountable and responsible to the welfare of citizens, the act now has a paradigm shift from public grandstanding to populist endowment. Strategies like the use of community radio, creation of local task forces, promotion of grassroots distributive economy and enhancement of a proximate, traditional health response stand out visibly. Community radio The messaging on COVID-19 has been limited to two official languages, English and French, yet there is a large community that prefers the message in their Lingua Franca which is Pidgin English or the indigenous national languages. Travellers have noted that the national language changes for every 50 to 75 kms done. Most of the national languages are quite different with different alphabets and tones. This explains why the existence of community radios in hinterlands help to communicate the messages of COVID-19 to the local communities easier and better. Community radio stations reaches out to the largest community using the common language of the rural community. It has persuasive potentials in matters of opinion and belief, because it is independent and not commercial. It has the rare capacity to promote the sharing of information with the potential for immediate feedback. It has geographical or territorial competence broadcasting to a "homogenous public". Community inclusion Community inclusion should focus on creating a COVID-19 task force in the communities. Task forces are local authority's platform for information sharing with the involvement of traditional, religious authorities, women's networks and women's organizations, youth leaders and local Civil Society Organisations and Non-governmental organizations (NGO) in the fight against COVID-19. Also, most communities are filled with village meetings that hold weekly or monthly. There are also other specialized meeting groups for women, men, youths, church, and professionals onlywhich the community members can use as conversation mediums to enhance and disseminate most of what is broadcast in the community radios. Other traditional communication agencies include chiefdoms, quarter heads, town criers, placards etc. Community economy The production and dissemination of anti COVID-19 kits like face masks, hand sanitisers as well as the purchase of hand washing containers and soaps can be done at the community level rather than have them ferried from urban centres. This will help in bolstering grassroots distributive economy and creating a shared robust wealth at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Community reconciliation The Anglophone regions have been in a protracted crisis that has affected their respective health systems, making them vulnerable and susceptible to a pandemic such as COVID-19. Indeed before COVID-19, there was COFID-16. COFID-16 stands for the Conflict Over Federalism, Independence or Decentralisation that attained a manifest crisis in 2016. Can COVID-19 open windows for deeper dialogue and structural justice the way it did in Asia (Island of Indonesia) in the province of Aceh in December 2004 when it was rocked by a tsunami? In its wake and devastation of this tsunami, the warring parties in Aceh realised the senselessness of fighting amidst such a calamity. Within 8 months, both separatist rebels and the government signed a peace agreement in which the insurgent groups renounced their claim to a separate state and in exchange Indonesia agreed to offer a full-fledged special autonomy or special status to the Aceh region. So can COVID-19 trigger a permanent scope for and solution to COFID-16? Community vaccine
A vaccine is a substance used to stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against one or several diseases. We are aware that America, Asia and European countries are in the process of manufacturing a conventional vaccine against COVID-19. This however has not stopped local communities from relying on their herbal vaccine and nutritional vaccine. The Archbishop of St. Peter end Paul Diocese in Douala, Archbishop Kleda's and Dr. Fru's highly mediatised herbal vaccines against COVID-19 are products from the artemisia plant and other herbs locally grown in Cameroon’s backyards. Prof. Julius Oben has just carried out research on the potential of "achu" soup (Star Yellow) in managing the spread of COVID-19. Prof. Oben's argument is that the dietary habits of a people determine the bacteria they host, as well as the functioning of their immune system and ability to manage certain infections. No one doubts the health value of most of Cameroon’s local diets. Conclusion The fight against COVID-19 should leave no one behind and no response ignored.

Monday, July 6, 2020

People left behind in decision-making on COVID 19

Best Strategies and What We Are Learning By James Achanyi Fontem, camlinknews As COVID-19 infiltrates the physical, mental, social, economic and geographical landscapes we all inhabit, citizens around Cameroon are forced to obey new national laws and policies on social isolation, lockdowns, and movement restrictions.
For some groups of particularly vulnerable people - the elderly, disabled, those suffering from physical and mental ill-health or those at risk of violence and abuse - the restrictive measures have a significant and negative effect. These people’s health and wellbeing, in all senses, are being corroded. In some cases, people are in extremely threatening and deadly situations. So who is making these decisions on isolation and lockdowns? How do their judgments take into consideration the wider impact on the population and the secondary effects of these restrictions, especially on vulnerable people? We, a group of colleagues working on national health coverage, decided to do a rapid analysis of 6 Community COVID-19 Taskforces to identify their composition and investigate their decision-making processes and what we found out was shocking. PERSPECTIVE Across the full spectrum of Development issues, and the full range of communication, public engagement and media strategies, ill-founded rumours and misinformation are a major problem. Using COVID-19 as a very current example: How can we best respond? Which strategies could be adopted? Drawing from knowledge shared across national platforms, we are seeking your critique and comment on the learning, analysis and proposed strategies that follow. THE CHALLENGE COVID-19 is highly fertile ground for misinformation and rumours, whether accidental and unintended or deliberate and malicious. We all need help to make sense of the mass of information that is being blasted at every one of us. COVID-19 came upon us quickly and unexpectedly. There was no built-up body of knowledge. The reputable information about COVID-19 kept changing and keeps evolving on some vitally important matters – for example: • Can people transmit it when asymptomatic? • If yes, what are the levels of asymptomatic infection? • How long can the virus survive on surfaces? • What effect does the virus have on children and adolescents? • What is the nature and trend of the epidemiological patterns? • What is the effectiveness of already-approved drugs for other health issues? • How long before we get a vaccine? • Can people who have had COVID-19 be re-infected? These are all fertile grounds for rumours and misinformation. The overall disease control strategies adopted make a big difference in the receptiveness of populations to rumours and misinformation. At the strategic level, those strategies will need to ensure: • The accuracy, reliability and consistency of the information being provided; • The credibility and standing of the people delivering that information; and • The resonance with the population - are they engaged? If one or all of these elements are not in place, then the possibility of rumours and misinformation gaining hold and spreading is enhanced. The nearly pervasive presence of basic and smart phones, social networks and WhatsApp groups (or the equivalent) helps provide fuel for rumours and misinformation. Everyone can be an instant news and information machine with reach way beyond any numerical, temporal, geographical, fact-checking or editing constraints. Accuracy, credibility and resonance are vital. In relation to specific actions that are being developed for an effective response to COVID-19, if there is a major gap between the nature of the action encouraged and the possibility for implementation by people and communities, there is further fertile ground for the amplification of disruptive rumours and misinformation. These global recommendations include actions such as: maintain a 6-foot distance, wash hands with soap and water multiple times per day, wear a mask, close down your businesses, stay at home, and cancel all events that normally gather people in large groups such as weddings and funerals. These and other strategies appear to be vitally important for effective COVID-19 action. But in order to avoid creating fertile territory for the strengthening of rumours and misinformation, they will need to be introduced and implemented relative to the conditions in Cameroon as a whole and each community.
There seems to be a continuing dynamic that makes matters worse for effective action and better for rumours and misinformation on challenges posed by COVID-19. What is a fact? What is accurate information? In relation to COVID-19, the trend in many countries is to mix facts and accurate information with opinion, wishes and ideological preferences, and then to present that mix as the truth. In that context, rumours and misinformation flourish. This is an important challenge to confront for effective action on Development priorities such as COVID-19. As with all Development issues, engagement, analysis and action that take into account and work to the gender, local voices, over 100 minority languages, socio-economic and other perspectives, are vitally important as both matters of principle and for effectiveness. They underpin all that follows. STRATEGIES - What should we do? Below are six key points from the learning to date shared through national platforms on how to handle the challenge of misinformation and rumours. A. Go to people – do not expect them to come to you: Premise: Within communities or online, everyone is part of a network. Those networks inter-relate, so there is significant scale. Pointers: 1. Whether in person or online, find ways to identify the most popular and prevalent networks and engage in those spaces. 2. Do not create your own platform and space in the expectation that people will come to you in significant numbers. 3. Find ways to identify the most popular and prevalent networks and engage in those spaces. The people within those networks are often the most credible for others in the network. And that credibility is strengthened by their "ownership" of their own platforms. 4. Negotiate access into fora such as local community meetings, popular social media networks, coalitions of women's groups, journalists' networks, local government alliances, the arts/music community, local and national radio presenters and producers, popular entertainment shows, etc. It should be noted that in each context, these will be different. B. Combine scientific evidence with storytelling, especially through the voices of people directly affected: Premise: Communications either responding to actual misinformation or getting out front of potential rumours and misinformation need to resonate. Facts alone are rarely sufficient. Most people are attracted to and engage with storytelling. Pointers: 1. Recognise the fact that stories resonate. 2. Ensure that the voices and stories of people who have experienced or are at risk of COVID-19 are at the forefront of any communication strategy. 3. Identify and partner with the main storytelling facilitators in your context - from radio and TV dramas to local community "story-tellers". 4. Explore and test which stories are most compelling - the ones that resonate strongest across populations. 5. Have local people tell their own stories in their own ways - authenticity is vitally important. C. Identify and name the rumour and misinformation "source" and motivation: Premise: Most of us have no idea about the sources that initiate, feed or amplify specific rumours and misinformation in our local and national contexts. Therefore, it is difficult to make informed judgments related to accuracy and credibility. Pointers: 1. Support the acquiring of expanded media literacy skills. 2. Do not assume that people will know the rumour/misinformation sources and their motivations. 3. Identify and "name" the sources of rumours and misinformation and/or those escalating the presence of the rumours and misinformation. 4. Understand and shine a light on the possible motivations of the communicator (e.g., money, politics, personal ambition, personal anecdotal experiences, and ideology) of the rumour or misinformation in a manner that can help to undermine and neutralise its potency. D. Undertake two-way communication that responds to the public's concerns as a conversation: Premise: As outlined within "The Challenges" above, there is a lot we do not know and are still learning about COVID-19. The facts can change and are changing. Pointers: 1. Be aware that, in this context as with many other Development issues, the value of traditional message-driven communications is severely weakened; there are just too many questions. 2. Initiate and facilitate population-level conversations, whether in digital or other environments. 3. Use those conversations to engage with people on their questions and concerns. 4. Ensure there are participants in those conversations who are viewed as credible. 5. Check or question the sources of information shared in the conversations, being aware that deliberate misinformation is sometimes disguised as an official communication from a reputable source. 6. Do not be didactic and all-knowing. 7. Avoid political and ideological affiliation in anything that is being communicated. 8. Allocate resources to establish and facilitate those conversations. E. Get your own facts straight! Premise: Nothing undermines an anti-rumour and anti-misinformation strategy more than getting the facts and information that are the base of that strategy wrong. Pointers: 1. Get your sources right. 2. Get your facts right. 3. Verify images and videos. 4. Get maps right. 5. Do not get the basics wrong. 6. Be very transparent about what is NOT known about COVID-19. 7. Remember that humility can go a long way in increasing the trust needed to counter rumours and misinformation.