By Zainab Hassan
When members of the Dandari community of Machina Local Government Area in Nigeria’s north-east state of Yobe discovered that a community member who had just returned from travelling had a persistent cough, they were understandably worried. But armed with the proper knowledge, they knew what to do.
Suspecting that one of their own may have contracted COVID-19, which could put the health of the entire community in danger, they quickly reported the matter to the Mai Angwa, or ward head. Using reporting protocols that were already in place for polio prevention, the news was able to reach the LGA health team, who evacuated the community member for isolation.
“We suspected that the community member, who had a recent travel history to the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, might have contracted the virus, (and) he didn’t self-isolate as he should have,” said Malam Audu, the District Head of Falmaram, who alerted the LGA Heath authorities.
Ultimately, the community member was diagnosed with tuberculosis, not COVID-19. However, Baba Shehu Bukar, Machina LGA Director of Primary Health Care, who supervised the isolation process, said he was glad the community took a proactive approach. “The affected person was placed on treatment and has since been discharged and continues to be monitored to ensure that he completes the treatment as prescribed,” said Bukar.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria in February, UNICEF and partners have been helping the Nigerian Government to provide communities with information and prevention messages so members can protect themselves and their loved ones from contracting the disease.
The action of the Dandari community of Kukayasku Ward, one of scores of communities that have been reached with COVID-19 prevention messages by UNICEF through the Yobe State Primary Health Care Management Board, shows just how community sensitization could be a game-changer in the fight against the pandemic.
To reach communities in Yobe, no fewer than 1,100 UNICEF-trained volunteer community mobilisers have been going house-to-house to raise awareness of the disease, disseminating lifesaving prevention messages to communities about symptoms and modes of transmission, as well as demonstrations of handwashing with soap and making home-made masks. Traditional and religious leaders have been engaged, and radio and TV discussions and jingles broadcast. Religious leaders have helped ensure that messages are announced in mosques and churches.
Public address vans are also used to keep people informed about proper hygiene practices and the need to report any suspected cases to the nearest authority.
“The action taken by Dandari community is a good example of how an empowered community is able to participate in active disease surveillance,” said Carina Prakke, UNICEF Programme Manager leading COVID-19 risk communications for UNICEF in the north-east. “They have done this for polio and now they can do it for COVID-19. They know their community and they now also know the signs to look out for, to protect themselves, their families, their community and ultimately their country.”
One community spokesperson was optimistic Dandari would continue to take proactive action against COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. “We are happy the test turned out negative for COVID-19,” he said. “But what if the reverse was the case and we had not acted?””
Fortunately, it’s a question that doesn’t need to be answered.
Zainab Hassan, Communications for Development State Facilitator, Yobe State
Culled from unicef.org