Super health workers and faith leaders are fighting Corona virus

in Herat province, western Afghanistan

Narges Ghafary
A group of 32 energetic young community health workers (CHW), nutrition mobilizers,
UNICEF Afghanistan/2020/Ghafary
20 May 2020

Herat, Afghanistan, 17 May 2020:  A group of 32 energetic young community health workers, nutrition mobilizers, and faith leaders gathered together in an open area in Herat province to learn more about Corona virus. 

Conducted by UNICEF, the training aims to build the capacity and knowledge of the more than 2,800 health workers, nutrition mobilizers, and faith leaders on how to stop the spread of COVID19.  The trained mobilizers will also pass the messages to their community where there is a limited access to media.

For most of these health workers and faith leaders, this is the first training on COVID19, where some of their questions about the virus and misconceptions around it were addressed.

The preaching schedule at local mosques has been adjusted for one sole purpose: how to be safe from the Coronavirus.

While UNICEF has been working with the religious leaders and preachers to address children’s right, a new topic has been added: Coronavirus and the ways to be protected against it.

 “All of us should get mobilized and protect ourselves from the virus,” Mullah Jalaluddin, says while his hands gently hold a chain of prayer beads.

Mullah Jalaluddin lives in Qadrabad village, about an hour’s drive from the provincial capital of Herat, western Afghanistan.

He admits that there are a lot of misconceptions around the virus, “People often seek my advice regarding the use of herbal treatment or reading Quran verses that can protect them from the virus, says Jalaluddin. “Or they even ask me if it is okay to open their windows at home for air circulation.”    

Having five Mullahs from nearby mosque reporting to Mullah Jalaluddin, makes him an influential community member, where people respect his views. “Despite the corona virus crisis, around 500 people participate in Friday sermon, which provides an excellent opportunity to share with them what I learnt today about this pandemic,” adds Jalaluddin.

UNICEF Afghanistan/2020/Ghafary

A local drive in rural Afghanistan keeps communities safe from the Coronavirus

Parisa, 27, who is a volunteer health worker in her village for three years says, “There are many programmes on TV and radio talking about the COVID19, but there is no one to ask our questions. During the training session, I inquired about some of the beliefs that were common in our village, but now I know they are not factual.”

Coronavirus continues to spread in Afghanistan, and there is currently no cure for it. But instead, there has been a lot of myths such as the use of garlic, black tea and flaxseed.

“I thought that flaxseed is useful, and when using it, we will not contract the virus,” Parisa says, chuckles. Now she has accurate information to share with her villagers. “Twice a week, I go home-to-home to share health-related issues with women in our village. After this training, I will also share COVID19 messages with them. I hope no one in our village gets infected by the virus.”

UNICEF has carried out more than eighty COVID19 awareness raising training sessions reaching more than 2,800 (50% female) community members in Herat. This included faith leaders, community health workers, nutrition mobilizers, community health supervisors, and journalists.

On a daily basis, the mobilizers voluntarily provide door-to-door visits to teach families and children on how to protect themselves from COVID-19 in their village.

“We’re here because we want to pass on the right information to our community,” says Parisa who is responsible to raise the awareness of 150 families in her area. “I will tell my villagers that a mother with positive coronavirus test can breastfeed her child if she follows the protective measures.”  UNICEF has continued to promote exclusively breastfeeding even for infected mothers as it is the safest during this period, providing much needed immunity for infants and emphasizing the need for frequent handwashing and proper hygiene practices by mothers.