The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDC) has urged Governments to make use of community engagement as one of three critical initiatives to combat Covid 19’s impact to universal health coverage.
More than 750 000 cases of Covid 19 infection including over 15 000 deaths had been recorded in Africa beginning of this week.
With the ACDC observing an increase of 100 000 new cases weekly, there is concern on how the fight against Covid 19 is affecting governments’ response to other health interventions such as malaria, tuberculosis and immunisation programs
Speaking during the Organisation of African First Ladies webinar themed health and socio-economic impacts of Covid 19 on achieving universal coverage, ACDC director Dr John Nkengasong said understanding and exploring indigenous knowledge as well as societal values through engaging prominent community members, religious and other civil society leaders is important.
“Disease outbreaks in fact create a separate ecosystem and a challenge on its on and give way to complex, socio, anthropological layers that must be considered and incorporated in each responsive,” he said.
“As we have seen in this new age of information technology, there are so many outlets out there that people are using to get information into the community so called social media.As much as it has the capacity to do good, it has tremendous capacity to do significant damage.
“So we have to go back into our communities and make sure that the right information is provided so that we can access the right services appropriately. And use the grassroots approach to engage them so that we begin to push back on this misinformation.
“Without understanding the local context, what the community beliefs are,who influences the policy and the politics in the community, it will be very difficult to effect behavioral change.
“Social media and other outlets have a frightening power to disrupt health services potentially undoing long term efforts to empower communities to be vigilant and proactive when it comes to public health,” Dr Nkengsong said.
Giving an example of the impact Ebola had on other health interventions in West Africa, Dr Nkengsong said Guinea experienced a 46 percent drop in HIV testing and a 47 percent decline in the number of enrollment of patients who were seeking treatment.
In Sierra Leone, children under five years that were receiving malaria treatment declined about 40 percent while more than one 1.5 million children went without vaccines because of the outbreak.
Also numbers of new tuberculosis cases that were seeking treatment decreased to about 53 percent.
Dr Nkengsong added that coupled with protecting existing health services, was the need to protect the competent workforce that ensures there is effective response in combating the pandemic
“And lastly by taking these three factors into consideration we can take the necessary actions to ensure that our public health staff, facilities and nations over all are adequately prepared to deal with the pandemic without risking loss of essential health services and the general public,” he said.
One of the objectives of the ACDC’s objectives is to strengthen the capacity of Africa’s public health institutions as well as partnerships to detect and respond quickly to disease threats and outbreaks.
This is done based on data-driven interventions and programs