As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through Europe in early 2020, testing the strength of even the world’s most robust health systems, a sense of urgency was growing for those living in situations of extreme poverty.
Weak healthcare systems have long plagued nations in Africa. But as the pandemic escalated, so too did the spread of misinformation. Misinformation, driven by the growth in digital technology-derived connectivity, has been a global feature of this pandemic. And Africa was not spared: rumours were specific and contextualised, and ranged from matters of government policy to plots to prevent African nations developing their own coronavirus cures.
In May 2020, the CDAC Network, in partnership with the H2H Network and supported by UK aid from the UK government, embarked on a project to systematically strengthen communication, community engagement and accountability across all aspects of the COVID-19 and wider-than-health humanitarian response in Africa.
The project was designed to use systems-level and locally-led innovations to attempt to both strengthen the capacity of aid agencies to effectively communicate with communities and respond in an environment challenged by the ‘infodemic’. The countries chosen to pilot this project were Sudan and Zimbabwe, both home to ailing healthcare infrastructure, vulnerable populations, and both listed low on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
The CDAC Network has been pioneering innovation humanitarian communication, community engagement and accountability (CCEA) for over a decade, and has led the global movement to embed CCEA structures within response architecture. More recently CDAC has been working with the national disaster management offices (NDMOs) of countries at risk of natural disaster to pre-position CCEA functions within government agencies to mitigate the impact of crises by ensuring strong communication with populations before, during and after an event.
In Sudan and Zimbabwe, local CDAC-contracted senior national coordinators have been working with government, CDAC member organisations and national and international aid providers to establish national platforms on CCEA and build bottom-up structures to facilitate the rapid collation, generation and dissemination of health messaging related to COVID-19, relevant to humanitarian settings, grounded in a strong evidence base. Along with the coordination of COVID-19-related information campaigns targeting at-risk populations, local and national celebrities have been brought on board to assist in the popularisation of verified health messaging.
CDAC’s work in Africa follows its first ever CCEA Coordinator training, which took place in Nairobi in January 2020 and which trained 25 senior national coordinators in the Africa region to assist in the regional efforts to strengthen community engagement across the continent.
CDAC will be issuing a lessons-learned paper in October 2020, looking more deeply at key lessons on Communication, Community Engagement and Accountability from previous and current epidemics and pandemics.