By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
A Sierra Leonean Global Health Expert, Mohamed Author Kanu, has advised the government that in order to assure a speedy and successful fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in Sierra Leone, the country’s Emergency Operations Center (OEC) should declare every community with a Coronavirus case a hotspot and listen to community suggestions to inform response strategies and co-create ideas.
“One effective Community Engagement Strategy that worked well during the EVD Outbreak in the country was to publicly declare hotspot communities immediately a case is reported within. Declaring the whole district hotspot is not enough and will only appreciate unclear response efforts. Like many COVID-19 cases are, every community is unique in some ways and therefore, disease transmission may be unique bearing prevailing socio-economic factors,’’ he said in an exclusive interview with Pan African Visions online.
Kanu said that, between 2015 and 2017, he led the Western Area World Health Organization (WHO) Community Engagement Team in the country with innumerable community engagement strategies that were effective to break EVD community transmission, adding that, the catch is that once a community is declared hotspot, implicitly, there will be an increase community vigilance, transparency and accountability among responsible persons, and by extension, facilitate increased awareness campaigns and social mobilization efforts, and health products.
“On the other hand, when hotspot communities are ‘rapped like a riddle’, fear mounts astronomically than expected, invisible rooms are created for fake news and myths. Public perception is left unmanaged, and then trust is broken yet difficult to build, response activities cannot account well, and opportunities are lost,’’ Kanu posited.
Lack of transparency and accountability during outbreak and/or pandemic has been meted with huge criticisms from global citizens in Africa to Asia. The WHO has been bashed on the same in many outbreaks including during this COVID-19 pandemic.
This, according to the Global Health Expert is the reason why community structures should be engaged immediately their community has been declared hotspot to manage perception and to demystify ashes of doubts or rumors. For the Global Health Expert, the government should not even think of a one-size-fit-all strategy during pandemic or outbreak such as COVID-19 considering existing circumstantial heterogeneity among the different social classes of people
Dr. Tonya Musa, Senior lecturer in Communications, Media and Journalism at the department of Mass Communications, Fourah Bay College, in the University of Sierra Leone, however stressed the need for the government to focus on mitigating community transmission which he catalogued in an eight (8) point recommendation.
“At what time are we going to focus
on mitigating community transmission? I
this is largely dependent on the following:
firstly, strategic social mobilization- having functional and formidable decentralized EOC. (From head office to regional, district and chiefdom levels),’’he wrote on his Facebook.
Among his numerous points , he stated that the EOC structures should have actual opinion leaders in the EOC structures and also called for an introduction of sanctions and penalties for non-compliance with the community mitigating protocols of the EOC.
“Fifthly, eencouraging stakeholders to identify the ways community transmission is increasing or the factors responsible for that and what they think the EOC can do to mitigate them in their communities. Also Identifying community monitors for the defined EOC SOPs’’ he recommended.
He however stated that media reporting or programming should stimulate discussion on these issues to set the Agenda on the role and responsibilities of the EOC in mitigating community transmission.
Sierra Leone has so far recordedd 157 confirmed cases since it first case almost a month with 8 deaths with 29 recovered from the COVID-19 and over thousand in quarantine been taken care by the government.