Coronavirus (14) Public health education and communication

28 March, 2020

Dear all,

Just read the discussion on protecting vulnerable communities during the covid-19 pandemic and I must say it's scary how the country as a whole is literally thrown into turmoil and knows not how and what to be done for a context such as ours.

I came in yesterday from an apparent "covid-19 free country" to beat the closure of entry deadline but already got concerned how we are handling the issue.

1. The screening process at border points seems very casual. I was checked for temperature at the Malawian border point but not on Zambian side but my Namibian colleague got checked at the Zambian point too. Whether this is due to only having one person stationed to do this or because I was considered as less a threat, am not sure.

I got concerned because being Zambian does not exempt me from infection and felt we are not addressing the screening process well. We could pool as many individuals to help the process. Washing hands can't be enough especially for travellers

2. We had a bus conductor address us on Covid_19 and his explanation quite unclear to himself and more so to those he was addressing. At least being a little more informed, I was able to share information where possible and respond to queries. Intense awareness campaigns must be given with the level of seriousness that the matter deserves

3. Information sharing seems more prompt from social media platforms than from us the health personnel. A little effort to explain to the community the seriousness of this pandemic from people in the sector would be helpful. The inequalities in information sharing too. Those with access to social media clearly have an advantage and hence we must find a way of engaging all communities in this period. We are seemingly ignoring the fact that there are still millions unable to get information via social media platforms and electronic media in our country. The danger too that comes with leaving non professionals to share information unconfirmed and its potential of misinformation can be catastrophic.

From Lusaka to Kitwe, except for the handwashing on entry on the bus, there was no health talk at all. Another missed opportunity to share health information. We could borrow the preaching tactics on buses and engage people to share information on public transport. Especially city to city as we have designated place where People get to in order to travel. We are assuming at this point that handwashing is enough.

4. Zambia should stop looking at the disease as an outside issue. I feel as much as we are being intense in entry restrictions, the infections are now inside and within the country and measures should be more intense within the borders. Of course we cant ignore the fact that our people's survival is threatened by both staying indoors(income and food) as well as being outside. The amount of people still getting outside to do their every day activities is enormous considering the cases that are being recorded.

Strategic measures with other departments and sectors are needed to ensure we protect our country.

We need to act now and act fast.

HIFA-Zambia profile: Flata Mwale is a Student at the College of Medicine, University of Malawi, Zambia. Professional interests: Health systems strengthening and health policy. Advocacy for equity and equality in access, utilization and distribution of health care. Email address: fltmwale AT