The Power of Education and Awareness Towards the COVID-19 Crisis

‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’.
Nelson Mandela

Globally, the last few weeks have been the peak of great awareness and education on COVID-19. This virus needs to be better understood from a layman’s point in order to make information easily disseminated, especially on the African continent. African countries need to provide continuous education and awareness to their populations on the need to keep social distancing, washing hands with sanitisers or soap frequently and wearing masks.

Most people have mind sets that these basic hygiene things are for school-going children. But they are wrong as we forget that viruses like COVID-19 have no boundary nor friends. Furthermore, 60 per cent of the continent’s citizens work from hand to mouth (earning less than $2 a day) and can hardly afford to buy masks or sanitizers even if taught about these fundamentals. Thus, the best solution needs to be used in this case, which is, education and awareness.

In Kenya, we need to focus on the education and awareness aspect of preventing COVID-19 infections among its 47 million people as it is a matter of life and death. With the need to contain the virus, all the education centres were closed by the March 20. This was when the country recorded 7 positive cases. The aim has been to reduce gatherings of crowds in order to encourage social distancing and ‘stay at home’ practice. However, as the cases began to rise hitting 158 cases on the 6th of April, the President in his national address brought in stringent measures of locking down Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale Counties as these counties had already started showing increased number of cases. April 16, 82 per cent of the cases were in the Nairobi Meteropolitan area with 14 per cent in Kwale and Kilifi.

The question then is, what is the purpose of this closed movement and social distancing if people do not understand what COVID-19 is and the importance of continuous education and awareness on the issue?

Kenya has got very good media coverage through the national and private channels. Through partnerships with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, World Health Organisation and the Non-Governmental Organisations, media can develop videos, clips and you tubes on what COVID-19 is about and why the need to practice social distancing, hygiene and covering of the mouth and the nose. This is the basic way forward as most poor households have at least a radio or share the television or even a smart phone. Moreover, most of the poor households can hardly afford food.

The question of affording data bundles does not arise. Companies like Safaricom need to partner with the Government to provide free internet services, at least during this time to slums and other vulnerable areas so that people can read from their phones the importance of basic hygiene and social distancing. At the same time, these telco companies are the best when it comes to advertising as they can move from areas of high risk to vulnerable areas sensitizing people on the COVID-19. They can do this in vernacular languages.

But then who should play the role of the artists? This should be focused on the media, especially the television channels should bring in people who are well known. For example, the famous blogger Nyakundi, the Mama Mboga, the city council cleaner and the humble company security guard. These people may look too small, but the wealth of awareness creation lies in these small people as they can create vast positive effects which could have a multiplier effect. Nyakundi who is well known to be critical on companies and individuals with facts, would be the best to write about the importance of social distancing during the CIVID crisis. The vegetable seller, popularly known as Mama Mboga should be documented while selling her vegetables and singing on the importance of hand washing. A simple song ‘Aye Mama Mboga, Jambo, jambo bwana, leo nimelete, Habari ya COVID, tuanze na kuosha mikono, tuendeleye na kununua mboga’. Popular local singers need to be brought on board where the can rapp popular songs with the message of precautions during the COVID pandemic. A security guard could be used to show how greetings are now a days done using hand sanitisers. The whole idea is to make things happen as for humans, seeing is believing and once they see these famous people, they would begin imitating them.

Another way to effectively communicate the social distance aspect, stay at home measures, use of water and soap and the need of covering the nose and mouth is by using drones at a lower altitude displaying this important message. The message should be very focal with pictures of people like mama mboga, or a famous sport personnel or a guard. This is the era of technology and its effectiveness can be then measured as a tool for teaching! This technology would bring in amazing results as people would be fascinated by this technology and would be encouraged to read what the message is and in turn, try to follow the instructions.

Communities, well-wishers and other donors can always use the Nyumba Kumi initiative where leaders can be given hampers containing pamphlets on COVID-19, masks, sanitisers, soap and even basic food items based on the number of the people under their custody. The aim is to discourage people from moving in and out of their homes in search of jobs to put food on the table. Also, at every Nyumba Kumi depo, there should be water tanks and soap.

Social workers should also be involved in disseminating information. This can be done through the use of printed materials like posters and brochures which can be distributed to all households but prioritising the slums and vulnerable population. Again the brochures and posters must try and use real people like mama mbogas, singers, actors like Mama Kayai of Vitimbi so that the effects could multiply.

Overall creative education and awareness solutions to combat immediate responses to avoid unintended consequences are the way forward so that lives are not affected negatively, and people value the change needed to prevent COVID-19.

‘Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek’. Barack Obama

Dr. Parita Shah is a Lecturer in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Nairobi

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