Raising awareness about COVID-19, a daily struggle
The town of Fort Dauphin, in the deep South of Madagascar, is a small town quite isolated compared to others. But the pandemic still struck the area, especially during the second wave in April when many cases and deaths were recorded.
Charlot Rakotomalala, Young Peer Educator, has volunteered with other young people to raise awareness about the fight against the virus in the town and preventive measures to protect themselves. They are twenty-two to be selected, among them he and another of his comrades are appointed supervisors. They received training on the content of awareness raising and health protocols in force. Being volunteers, the young people – once they are operational – do not receive a salary but rather a contribution to their travel expenses. This awareness programme is supported by UNICEF and funded by the Korea Development Agency (KOICA).
Young people get closer to the population by going door-to-door in working-class neighbourhoods, or by coming to markets and other busy places. Often young people go in pairs for their awareness-raising mission.
Charlot was ready that day. He put on his “voyage au pays des droits de l’Enfant” (travel through the land of the rights of the child) T-shirt distributed during the training sessions as working clothes to make it easier to spot them in the field, but is also the symbol of their commitment to the rights of the child. Mask on the face, hydroalcoholic gel in the pocket, enthusiastic, he meets his partner of the day. However, raising awareness is not easy. "The difficulty in our job," he said, "is that people are reluctant when they see us. Very often, people say they don't have time for us. But the most dangerous thing is that people neglected the barrier gestures a lot after the first wave, which easily gave way to the second wave. Slum dwellers believe that barrier gestures only apply in health centres and in the market.". Charlot and his team mate set a target of 08 households to visit for a day when they are mobilized.
The work of Charlot and his comrades began when the first cases of the second wave were identified. The local authorities noted relaxation of barrier gestures among the population and made the link with the outbreak of cases. The looming threat of new variants of the virus has accelerated decision-making. This emergency response had positive consequences, according to Ms. Mireille Mathieu Andriamampianina, Communication and Health Promotion Manager at the Regional Directorate of Public Health (DRSP) in Fort Dauphin: "The number of COVID-19 cases in the area has shrunk a lot and there is no variant of the virus detected. However, the work of these young people continues to strengthen barrier gestures and to raise awareness about vaccination."
Charlot is proud to be one of the volunteers in this awareness programme supported by UNICEF and KOICA. He is grateful and happy that his work and commitment have a palpable positive impact on the lives of the people of his town. His wish is that other programmes highlighting the skills of young people can see the light of day. Finally, he also hopes that sports and cultural infrastructures can be built so that young people do not get involved in delinquency.