UNDP Sierra Leone Resident Representative joins volunteer community mobilizers at the launch of the national 'STOP-COVID-19' campaign.

“In such unprecedented pandemics as COVID-19 that are highly transmissible and have no known treatment, there are two essential things we can do– supporting the health care system to address and cope with cases, and enhancing risk communication and community engagement to help slow and reduce its spread” Dr. Samuel Doe, Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sierra Leone.

In a bid to help fight the pandemic, the Government and UNDP embarked on a mass sensitization campaign dubbed, ‘STOP COVID-19’ with the localized theme - "Corona fet na we all fet". The goal of this campaign was to "dramatically promote and increased behavior change on key infection prevention and control measures for COVID-19 among communities. Moreover, following the Government’s declaration since early May 2020 on the mandatory use of face masks in public areas, UNDP was approached by the Risk Communication and Social Mobilization Pillar to support in the drive to send the message out to the country. Together, the partners designed the Mask-Up Salone campaign to help the enforcement of use of facemasks and the practicing of physical/social distancing from a Community-Led approach targeting the Western Area districts that were the epicenter of the disease.

To achieve the campaign’s objective, influencer groups and individuals like the Market Women’s Association, Youth, Persons With Disabilities, Association of Persons Living with Albinism, Association of the Persons with Dwarfism, Commercial Bike (Okada and Kekeh) riders’ Association, Fishing and Slum Communities, among others were selected by their local leadership structures from various communities and trained to champion the mass campaign. The rational for this selection being the need for inclusion of all people in the society believing that, ‘to achieve better results for community engagement and risk communication, it is best to have a representative of each community speak and listen to their own people and together derive ways of addressing the common enemy called Corona Virus’.

With support from UNDP, the National COVID-19 Emergency Response Centre (NACOVERC) planned and rolled out the rapid mass campaign in May with an initial support for one month. UNDP’s support was both technical - Development of a social mobilization and community engagement concept and strategy for the rapid roll-out of the ‘STOP COVID-19’ (‘MaskUp’ and ‘Physical Distancing’) campaigns, and financial totaling to $253,000 with the funds re-directed from the Country Office’s Annual Programme budgets catered for by UNDP’s core resources.

The intervention supported the training and deployment of 940 volunteer community mobilizers to engage their communities with information and education on COVID-19. UNDP further supported the mobilizers with stipends, and provided them with the necessary information, communication and education materials required to do their job. Trainings were organized by NACORVAC and approved and executed by WHO alongside the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

The end of activity report submitted by the mobilizers and compiled by NACORVAC shows that the information and outreach reached some 15,684 people in businesses (formal and informal), households and communities. Furthermore, the report reveals that many people did not adhere to prevention measures mostly due to denial, affordability and lack of access to factors that can facilitate their adherence such as access to water and soap for frequent handwashing. A high level of denial about the existence of COVID-19 still exists. In the report, 9,714 people declared that they had never put in place any prevention measures and half of them declared they would begin taking seriously the information and implementing precautionary measure for COVID-19 after the mobilizer’s engagement.

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