As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, frontline workers like Makonde District Health Promotion Officer, Ennie Kanoderera, continue to directly interface with communities to bridge gaps in knowledge of prevention practices.
Anne is one of the beneficiaries of the capacity building workshops for Health Promotion Officers (HPO) and Environmental Health Officers (EHT) organized by the Ministry of Health and Child Care, UNICEF and WHO, with support from the Health Development Fund (HDF).
Ennie’s work includes disseminating risk communication messages to increase community awareness of COVID-19 transmission and understand importance of adopting key prevention practices to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Through this training, I learnt that it is important to adopt engagement strategies that put communities at the forefront, especially where certain cultural norms may be hindering behaviour change, and the importance of engaging community influencers to promote social change” said Ennie.
During the training, Health Promoters, Environmental Health Technicians and Social Mobilisers from 59 districts interrogated community practices and behaviours that are fueling the spread of COVID-19 and mapped community engagement strategies to halt the spread of the virus.
As COVID-19 has changed the way people relate to one another, Ennie added that “It’s important that individuals and communities modify their behaviours to protect each other and stay safe in the new environment created by the virus.”
Coming from corners of the country that have experienced the pandemic differently, the HPO/EHT reflected on how communities are responding to the COVID-19 key messages and where they can step up efforts as behaviour change agents.
A starting point for Ennie and her colleagues, who participated in the trainings, was to reflect on the results of a rapid assessment on COVID-19 Knowledge Attitude Practices and Behaviour conducted by the Ministry of Health and Child Care, with support from UNICEF.
Presenting results of the assessment, the Deputy Director for Health Promotions in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Mr Paul Chinakidzwa said it was very encouraging to note the high knowledge levels among communities, including how COVID-19 is transmitted and the key preventative behaviours that are critical in stopping the spread of the virus.
“Communities now need to apply this knowledge and fully embraced the key preventative practices, wearing of masks in public, frequently washing hands with soap and water and social distancing,” he said.
Partners working together to help prevent COVID-19
The training was conducted through the Ministry of Health and Child Care, in collaboration with UNICEF and WHO through funding from the Health Development Fund (HDF) supported by UK Aid, EU, SIDA-Sweden, Irish Aid and GAVI.
Through HDF support, Zimbabwe has seen increased coverage of key reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and nutrition services, leading to better outcomes for children and women. During the COVID-19 pandemic, health frontline workers such as Ennie such are being supported to continue interfacing with their communities, disseminating lifesaving messages to prevent the spread of the disease.
Communities must pull together
To some of the surveyed communities, there are more immediate threats to their lives such as hunger, that they need to prioritise. These perceived difficulties in prioritising actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among target communities call for efforts to harness support from key community gatekeepers and custodians of culture and tradition, to position and act as role models for the promoted preventative practices.
For Ennie, engaging communities will not be an insurmountable task. “I have been enlightened on how I can utilize existing community health platforms and collaborate with community stakeholders to drive community led solutions that can promote and sustain behaviour change”, she said.
Takura Muzorodzi, Provincial Health Promotion Officer for Mashonaland Central said a community approach that respects the role and influence of community leadership can be a game changer. He noted that burial practices in some communities may increase risk of COVID-19 transmission, through practices such as washing of dead bodies and holding night vigils.
“Traditional leaders are our gateway to communities and it’s important to engage them to appreciate the need to do away with such harmful practices, being motivated by the need to keep their communities healthy and safe”, said Takura.
Takura also noted that tackling sensitive behaviours deeply rooted in local culture will require exploring appropriate community engagement strategies to build trust and change community perceptions on these cultural practices.
This was also a key take-home message for Ennie who testified that: “Before this training as a Health Promotion Officer, I thought my role was prescribing to the community what they are supposed to do. Through this training, I learnt that it is important to use strategies that enable the communities to be at the forefront especially when it involves shifting certain cultural norms”.
Ennie also appreciated insights on creating community feedback mechanisms that are rooted in community platforms and channels. She added that “listening to and responding to community feedback will help us develop COVID-19 responses that address the priorities of communities”.- Unicef Zimbabwe