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Aid agencies ramp up awareness messaging amid growing threat of COVID-19 in north-east Nigeria

29 Apr 2020

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COVID-19 sensitization with a water, sanitation and hygiene committee at the Government Senior Science Secondary School (GSSSS) camp in Bama, Borno State, Nigeria, 27 March 2020. Credit: IOM/Samuel Akoehomen

The confirmation of Nigeria’s first case of COVID-19 on 27 February triggered serious safety concerns for millions of vulnerable people across Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) states in the north-east region, where nearly 11 years of conflict have had devastating impacts on critical infrastructure, particularly health, which is crucial for the management of the pandemic. The more than 1.8 million internally displaced people living in overcrowded camps and communities relying on basic support provided by aid agencies were considered especially vulnerable.

With the pandemic projected to spread across all regions the country, UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations working in the BAY states have, since the beginning of March, rolled out several awareness and risk mitigation messaging across different media channels, including TV, radio, print and social media.

Striking partnerships with leading media providers with the widest coverage in the region, aid agencies have designed and rolled out series of animation videos, public service announcement (PSA) messages, pamphlets, postcards and “myth busters” to ensure that vulnerable populations and communities are aware of the nature of the virus, including symptoms, and how to mitigate the spread.

The awareness messaging, which was jointly developed with Government authorities and community leaders, and delivered in Hausa and Kanuri (the most widely spoken languages in the region), emphasizes positive hygiene practices, including repeated handwashing, maintaining physical distance and immediately notifying health authorities in the event of suspected cases.

To ensure that affected populations and communities are able to ask questions and seek clarifications when necessary, pamphlets that include information on toll-free numbers to reach health authorities have been distributed across camps and communities. Live radio programmes with call-in segments are also being aired on local radio stations to allow real-time flow of information.

With the social media awash with rumours and misinformation about the virus, regularly updated “myth busters” have been designed to address misconceptions and provide factual information.

To address concerns and fears that aid workers, including international staff travelling or returning from high-risk countries, could potentially import the virus to camps and communities in the region, risk mitigation and protection measures adopted by aid agencies, including 14-day self-isolation procedures for returning staff, were incorporated into the PSAs.

With the pandemic spreading across states, the UN and partners on 31 March launched a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan for the BAY states, emphasizing prevention measures including the provision of clean water, soap and handwashing points across camps, while critical health equipment will also be delivered to support the government response. A critical pillar of the response plan is risk awareness and mitigation communication, which partners are already implementing and reviewing as the situation unfolds.    

OCHA in Nigeria teamed up with Hollywood animator Neal Sternecky, Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO) and the popular Hausa Television AREWA24 to produce a COVID-19 video for distribution throughout Nigeria. The myth-busting animation addresses rampant misinformation on the virus and is in support of the Government’s response to the pandemic and its cooperation with the Nigeria Humanitarian Communications Working Group in scaling up awareness-raising.

SAWBO, a Michigan State University-based programme, was approached by long-time partner AREWA24, the Nigerian TV station that broadcasts to more than 38 million people in sub-Sharan Africa in their native Hausa language, and the Nigeria Humanitarian Communications Working Group, which is chaired by OCHA.