We are all social mobilisers in the fight against COVID-19

An Editorial

Gopinath Durairajan, Chief Communication for Development, UNICEF South Sudan
Social mobilizers are talking to a woman
17 June 2020

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases are rapidly increasing in South Sudan, it is important to recall that we all have an important role to play in containing the spread of the virus. Dealing with the virus is first and foremost about preventing infection and ensuring we all have the proper information on how to do so and share it with people around us. That is why in fighting the coronavirus - also called COVID-19 – we are all social mobilisers who can influence our family members, friends and colleagues to apply the preventive measures to protect ourselves against infections, while fighting rumors and social stigma.

As we can never repeat it too much, let us remind ourselves that the easiest ways to protect ourselves are to practice frequent handwashing with soap and clean water, stop handshaking and keeping your distance from other people. To protect others, cough and sneeze in a disposable handkerchief or in your flexed elbow and if you are sick, stay at home. It is also now widely recommended to wear face masks while in public. These can be easily made with some fabric and washed regularly.

Adhering to these messages and ensuring that everyone actively participates in doing so, is what we refer to as Risk communication and Community engagement. These activities are at the center of the response that was put in place by the Government of South Sudan, UNICEF and partners, soon after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic.

A social mobilizer walking with a poster

The Risk communication and Community engagement efforts play a critical role in outbreak prevention and response. They are crucial to the country's efforts to limit or contain the spread of a disease. In South Sudan, with very limited mass-communication and high illiteracy rates, particularly among women and girls, appropriate ways of communication need to be put in place to ensure that all people are reached. It is important to consider the needs of specific groups who might face difficulties in accessing information, care and support which could leave them at a higher risk of exposure. UNICEF and partners play a major role in assessing these needs, increasing awareness, and providing timely and accurate information about the disease to the communities.

The Risk communication and Community engagement activities which include mobilizing, sensitizing and educating communities through media, face-to-face discussions, street announcements, posters, fliers and banners are ongoing in all 10 states of South Sudan.

To be able to assist communities, the Government of South Sudan, UNICEF and their partners developed actions that were specifically designed to address South Sudan’s unique context and challenges, such as what to do in high-risk settings, like the heavily congested protection of civilian’s sites or poor, crowded neighborhoods with life-saving messages on COVID-19.  

Through the Integrated Community Mobilization Network (ICMN), UNICEF and partners can strengthen community engagement and build community trust and ownership while promoting and bringing about positive behavior change.

This approach ensures that the communities we are working with are informed and involved in the work we do. They help us to select social mobilizers who become champions of change. We work with more than 4,000 women and men in all 10 states in carrying out effective two-way communications aimed at increasing awareness of COVID 19 and measures to prevent infections.

These prevention and response efforts allows UNICEF to engage with some of the most vulnerable and marginalized populations, including those displaced and people with disabilities. The approach also ensures inclusion – working with rural and urban populations, different ethnics groups, with a focus on pastoralists. By using a face-to-face approach to communications, with an emphasis on house-to-house visits, UNICEF and partners reach groups, such as women and girls, who might otherwise have missed out on the life-saving information due to traditional gender roles and social norms that make them primary care givers for children, the sick and the elderly.   

Since we started risk communication and community engagement activities in South Sudan last March we have printed and distributed close to 500,000 banners, posters and leaflets in five different languages; engaged more than 40 radio stations who aired radio talk shows and information jingles in 10 different languages; and trained more than 4,000 social mobilizers on COVID-19 messages which they are relaying to people through interpersonal communication and megaphone announcements. Together with our partners we have reached 3,400,000 people in South Sudan. 

Protecting our communities from the risk of becoming infected by COVID-19 cannot be effective unless all of us are involved. We all need to know how to protect ourselves and our loved ones against the disease. And we need to act accordingly and be examples of behavioural change for all those we live and interact with. That is why we all should be social mobilisers in the fight against COVID-19.   Fighting COVID-19 is a participative process and your participation is vital to prevent this disease in our country.  Together, we can come through this crisis stronger, healthier and more united.