Driving home preventive practices
Young volunteers on what they witnessed and learned from being at the forefront of a recent campaign to reinforce key public health safety measures against COVID-19 in communities across Kathmandu Valley
“It’s not that people have not understood. They are wearing masks, for example, but not in the correct way.”
Nepal Scout Alisha Dahal recently saw firsthand how despite knowing about the key public health safety measures against COVID-19, actual practice on the ground is falling well short of expectations. “We found that a lot of elderly people wear masks, but they don’t know the right way to put them on,” she says. “But a lot of children are not wearing masks at all.”
Research has shown that thanks to a range of awareness campaigns conducted across various mediums – radio, television, social media, mobile phones, and the news media, among others – since the pandemic first began its spread in Nepal, an impressive 90 per cent of the population are now aware of the behaviours they need to adopt to protect themselves and others from the disease. The awareness, however, has yet to translate into effective action.
It was therefore with the objective of driving home SMS practices – namely, distancing, mask use and hand hygiene – through targeted interpersonal communication efforts that Alisha and her fellow scouts, together with public health students, had taken part in a recent campaign. The SMS Behaviour Reinforcement Campaign was launched by the Ministry of Health and Population in collaboration with UNICEF and USAID and in partnership with Nepal Scouts and the Higher Institutions and Secondary Schools Association Nepal, and saw volunteers such as Alisha had headed out to communities across the Kathmandu Valley, promoting the SMS practices.
For 15 consecutive days, these young volunteers made their way to different spots around the valley where large groups of people tend to congregate – including markets and public squares. Here, they interacted directly with members of the public, discussing preventive measures and fielding queries, and distributing flyers and masks. They also held live demonstrations on the right way to wear masks, wash hands and use sanitizer, as well as disseminating messages through speakerphones.
“It was very rewarding,” says Roselini Shrestha, a student of public health at Nobel College, and one of the volunteers.
“For people who already knew about the SMS practices, we were able to reinforce their knowledge and provide tips on how to make it more effective, and for those who didn’t know, they learned something new.”
Nepal Scout Pawan Koirala is happy to report that even within the campaign’s limited time, they witnessed visible change. “We visited the same places in a few days’ interval to follow up and found that more people were wearing masks correctly and maintaining distance,” he says. He feels that having a “mix of backgrounds”, in terms of the scouts’ experience with community engagement and the public health background of the students, made for great exchange of ideas and strengthened the campaign.
With the campaign having come to a close on a positive note, plans are presently afoot to extend efforts beyond the Kathmandu Valley to other parts of the country. “If we could take this model and apply it to the rest of the country, I truly feel it would help people internalize these practices and prevent further spread,” Pawan says.
“As a scout and citizen, I’m glad that we have been able to serve the nation in this hour of need, and we would be honoured to support future campaigns.”
Reiterating this sentiment, Rosellini says,
“At a time when the whole world has been hit hard by the pandemic, and we’re still waiting for a vaccine, each individual’s action matters more than ever.”