COVID-19 is caused by SARS COV-2 a coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Symptoms of the infection include fever, dry cough, sore throat, and difficulty in breathing.
It is estimated that over 80% of people infected with COVID 19 will suffer mild to moderate illness and recover whereas older people and those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases are susceptible to a severe form of the disease and to an extent, death. In some cases, some people are just “carriers” of the virus and hence might not even show symptoms although tested positive.
The Coronavirus outbreak in Ghana has moved from the stage of importation through local transmission (i.e. direct spread from the index cases) to the stage of community transmission where sometimes the source of transmission is untraceable.
The situation has necessitated some drastic and bold containment and mitigation measures by the Government of Ghana including recently, closure of land, sea, and air borders a three-week partial lockdown, a ban on all social gatherings as well as closure of schools of which some have been eased overtime after adequate consultation of containment measures.
The Ghana Health Service and the Ministry of Information are also providing periodic briefing sessions on basic safety and personal hygiene measures. In the midst of all these, there are also a host of myths and misconceptions around the disease especially within Ghana’s present situation of less active cases and the fast recovery of patients even with easing of restrictions. Some Ghanaians are even of the view that the virus is non-existent. This affects the efforts to manage the unprecedented situation to the hope of zero-active cases just as the President of Ghana, H.E. Nana Addo Dankwah Akuffo-Addo challenged the nation during his 17th address on measures to combat COVID-19 in Ghana.
Ultimately, there is very limited community education in the rural areas, particularly in the local languages. In Northern Ghana, the socio-cultural dynamics such as settlement patterns, nature of households, ceremonies or rites of passage, religion, communal cooking and eating, homages at palaces of chiefs etc. makes them more susceptible to transmission of COVID-19. Also, high illiteracy rates especially among young girls and women makes it difficult for them to understand.
In light of these happenings and anticipated effects, the Catholic Church in Ghana through Caritas Ghana, seeks to contribute to the containment and the creation of humanitarian safety valves especially in the North through already existing social services like education and health provided by the Church in the deprived rural areas in Northern Ghana.
This is in line with Government of Ghana’s actions as a contribution to the national response to Covid-19 pandemic. With response to the call of the COVID-19 proposal by the Embassy of France in Ghana, Caritas Ghana secured a grant with the main objective to influence the socio-cultural behaviors of the rural folks of Upper West, Upper East and Northern Regions through social behavior change communication and community education to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in Ghana.
Amidst the numerous COVID-19 response activities implemented by different projects in Caritas Ghana and within various geographical regions of Ghana, the French Embassy/Caritas Ghana response project is aimed at community-level awareness and education of the Corona virus disease in Upper West, Upper East and Northern Regions whilst encouraging the new normal of virtual communication amongst team members.
Five communities were carefully chosen as targets for the educational impacts. These include Salaga in the Northern Region, Zuarungu-Moshie in Bolgatanga East District, Zaare in Bolgatanga Municipality, Piisi in Wa Municipal and Sankana in Nadwowli-kaleo District.
The project was guided by four main specific objectives, under which several practical activities were carried out. The first strategy was to set up coordination teams with the Catholic Diocesan Development Offices that would liaise with the two main Caritas Ghana coordination centers in Accra and Tamale through virtual means.
The main aim of this was to reduce the rate of staff travel and also risk mitigation measure for COVID-19 so staff are not over exposed to the disease. A virtual pre-orientation workshop of all activities and responsibilities were adequately laid down for all staff working on the project. Personal Protective Equipment such as gloves, hand sanitizers and nose masks were distributed to all staff before the beginning of practical work.
With great commitment and hard work, the Regional Teams visited each community for intense sensitization in the local dialects; both door to door and community gatherings whilst observing the COVID-19 protocols to protect themselves and the people as well. Feedback from the various communities were encouraging whilst the teammates learnt new local terms and helped debunk the myths of the people. For example, at Piisi, the nose mask was hilariously called “nyubor pieto” in the local dialect which meant “underwear of the nose”.
Two COVID-19 educational billboards were mounted per community with several infographic materials posted and distributed across all five communities. Some traditional leaders of these communities were very grateful for these steps towards enhancing awareness of COVID-19.
The Media has been a great tool in our day to day activities especially in the era of this pandemic which is contracted as an airborne disease to an extent. Jingles and short messages were developed in seven native languages and translated version in English both in audio and audiovisual forms. Again, these short jingles have gone viral on many media platforms especially on some local community radio stations and on social media.
The project team has been applauded on several platforms not just for easy and practical understanding of these jingles but also with their solid and unique contents. The Regional Teams have also had talk-times with the community radio stations in the local languages as a means to reach other neighboring communities that were not engaged.
In summary, the following key results were achieved through a number of implemented activities in relation to the main purpose of the project;
•Intense community education and awareness on COVID-19 through local radio discussions and public space interactions in the Upper East, Upper West and Northern Regions of Ghana
•Public awareness on the role of French Embassy in the COVID-19 Response project through published articles
•Virtual capacity building for staff in relation to covid-19 through a workshop and series of fortnightly conference calls
•Uninterrupted communication support to assist Project officer and other staff in management and coordination of activities across the various regions
•Good and efficient use of social and traditional media platforms assisted in the reaching a greater population than planned
•Educational jingles on Covid-19 awareness were developed in local dialects making communication easier with the local folks
•COVID-19 protocols were highly encouraged whilst bearing in mind Caritas Ghana’s Safeguarding policies
RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSION
With inspiration from Pope Francis’ new social Encyclical; “Fratelli Tutti” on The Fraternity and Social Friendship as well as the celebration of the Fourth World Day of the Poor, we all are encouraged to assist curb the spread of COVID-19 by observing the laid-down protocols and in our own small way extending our hands to the vulnerable and less privileged in the society.
The humanitarian support from institutions such as the French Embassy in Ghana amongst others has created a better avenue for Caritas Ghana to contribute adequately and effectively towards the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Government of Ghana’s response attaining “a zero-active COVID-19 nation” whilst easing restrictions in the country especially in the rural areas where education is limited.
I wish to acknowledge the support of the Embassy of France in Ghana.
By Priscilla N. A. B. Zan