Health educator uses a mobile van to educate communities about COVID-19

Reaching one village at a time

Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye
community mobilization, community sensitization drives, coronavirus, COVID-19, mobile vans, health education
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Kabuye
22 May 2020

Today, more than ever, communities need to access information about coronavirus, how it spreads and how to protect themselves from it. This is the reason John Matovu Ssamula, a Health Educator for ten years now, works tirelessly every single day to sensitize communities about the new disease as he calls it, one village at a time. Unlike in the past, he is using mobile vans to reach the masses with this approach. John shares that he has done community sensitization drives for several outbreaks in Uganda but confirms the current drives have been different. “We cannot go near the people, but we still need to teach them about the disease.” 

UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health to carry out sensitization drives that are promoting preventive behavioral practices to protect them from catching the disease. 

In a day, the team of two (John and his driver, Didas) cover between 8 and 10 villages reaching almost 500 people.

“I have seen change in behavior and glad that many people are adhering to the guidance I provide as I do my work,”

John proudly shares.
community mobilization, community sensitization drives, coronavirus, COVID-19, mobile vans, health education
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Kabuye

At the beginning of each day, John maps out the villages he will traverse, and this informs the day’s programme. This is then followed by a light breakfast and off the team goes. Before he sets off, he must ensure the microphone is working properly and the speaker loud enough. He echoes “Testing one, two”. The speaker on top of the mobile van is loud and clear.

community mobilization, community sensitization drives, coronavirus, COVID-19, mobile vans, health education
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Kabuye

As the vehicle moves, the pre-recorded messages are airing in both English and Luganda – the local language mostly spoken by the communities they drive through. On this rainy morning, people are going about their work at home and others setting up their businesses. His first stop is at a small trading centre. John targets spots such as these. Upon hearing the booming speaker, they attentively listen in. Many are wearing masks.

community mobilization, community sensitization drives, coronavirus, COVID-19, mobile vans, health education
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Kabuye

Once he grabs their attention, the pre-recorded messages are switched off and John reaches out for his microphone. He shares information about coronavirus, symptoms, preventive measures and reminds people to wash their hands with running soap and water. He reminds all shop and business owners to provide handwashing facilities and desist from serving those who don’t want to wash hands. His session ends with a plea “Wash your hands, wash your hands, and wash your hands with soap and water.” “Use any type of soap available – powder soap, liquid soap and bar soap, all is effective.”

community mobilization, community sensitization drives, coronavirus, COVID-19, mobile vans, health education
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Kabuye

At another stop, boda boda (motorcycle) riders are taking shelter from the rain. This is also another target group. When the car comes to a halt, he connects some educative songs recorded on his phone. The songs have messages on coronavirus and the lyrics are catchy. “I have been doing this work for a long time, so I always ensure I employ different tactics. I utilize different approaches to get attention of different groups. I learnt this through experience,” John shares. He is right.

community mobilization, community sensitization drives, coronavirus, COVID-19, mobile vans, health education
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Kabuye

In no time, the riders are all attentive and listening in. He reminds the riders not to carry passengers as advised by the Ministry, referring them to the recently launched Ministry campaign on COVID-19 dubbed ‘Tonsemberera’ which means ‘Don’t come near me or give me space.’

community mobilization, community sensitization drives, coronavirus, COVID-19, mobile vans, health education
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Kabuye

John has been speaking for more than two hours now but still does his job with a lot of energy. When asked what motivates him, John says, “Seeing communities free from disease pushes me to doing this every day and I feel proud to be part of such campaigns.” The next stop is a market. People are buying and others selling. He uses another technique to catch their attention. He implores riddles and poems, punctuating them with key messages on coronavirus. He is using Luganda, the local language spoken by many. ‘It is useful to sanitize, wash your hands with soap and water and keep a distance of at least four metres away from one another.” It is a busy market.

community mobilization, community sensitization drives, coronavirus, COVID-19, mobile vans, health education
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Kabuye

When the rain is gone, John stops at another small trading centre. This time he is using posters to educate the people. He reminds them to stay home and only come out when they need to. He educates them about the transmission of coronavirus. “The virus doesn’t move but we human beings move it using our hands. Don’t come to the public if you have a cough, cough in your elbow and not in your hands but above all, wash your hands with soap and water regularly to kill the germs.” He appreciates those with handwashing facilities with soap.  The posters and several other information, education and communication materials have been produced with UNICEF support.

community mobilization, community sensitization drives, coronavirus, COVID-19, mobile vans, health education
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Kabuye

Social distancing is critical to protecting communities from the coronavirus disease. As he rides through the communities, John spots some boda boda (motorcycle) riders under shade having a conversation. They are so close to each other. This is a target group. The car makes a stop and John engages them about the need for social distancing, educates them about the new diseases – symptoms, prevention measures, using the posters. Before he leaves, he asks them to keep away from each other – at least four metres apart. It is the key component of the new ‘Tonsemberera’ (to mean stay away from me) campaign by the Ministry of Health. 

As communities grapple with learning about the new disease, John ensures his sensitization sessions are interesting. No wonder he uses several techniques to catch their attention and he is confident that the communities are learning, as seen in the change in behavior by many. “I see no one shaking hands, people are washing hands with soap and water and keeping away from crowds.”

During the drives, he considers himself as part of the community, he takes on questions from the community members. 

The highlight of day is the sign out message at the last stop when John shares a message of hope - “When televisions, radios, newspapers finally announce that there is no more COVID-19 cases in Uganda and in the world, we shall jubilate then but not now. Let us keep together, adhere to the messages I am sharing, and we will overcome.” How inspiring!