As Covid 19 spreads around the world, how do we build resilience in the communities and countries who are most at risk?

Save burial teams bury a body in a graveyard in Freetown, Sierra Leone. ( Photo: The Guardian/ Kate Holt)

On the 12th of March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially announced the Covid-19 outbreak as a pandemic. The European region, North America and parts of Asia are currently experiencing the highest number of cases, and it is likely we will see a similar situation developing throughout Africa and across the rest of Asia.

18 of the 20 poorest countries in the world are in Africa and Asia, with the top three all in Africa. It is these poorest and least developed countries that are likely to be overwhelmed by the pandemic, so what proactive steps should we be taking now to help these people prepare for, and survive, this public health emergency?

Combat misinformation

Mariama Stevens, a community health worker, washes her hands in chlorinated water. In Sierra Leone during the Eboutbreak in 2015. (Photo: ActionAid International/ Kate Holt)

Countries that have very little health and social infrastructure in place, and where poverty is rife, are most at risk. As an example, how will the people living in Kibera, Africa’s largest urban slum in Kenya, be able to cope? What resources and information will they have access to?

As we saw with Ebola, proactive communications sharing potentially life-saving messages are crucial to improving understanding and limiting the spread of the virus, chaos and hysteria amongst populations in the grip of a pandemic.

Social media is a fantastic tool for spreading information quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, this information isn’t always factual and can prove catastrophic during a public health emergency. In order to combat this misinformation, it is vital for world-renowned brands, like charities and businesses, to be consistently communicating the correct information and health advice, providing people with a trusted and verified source to turn to.

Creative content

Information dissemination, which we cover in our next paragraph, can only do so much. The quality and creativeness of the material tasked with delivering the message are of key importance. The message needs to be delivered in a way that is understandable and engaging to people of all ages, and levels of education.

This could be through a video campaign that uses colourful cartoon characters to tell a story; via posters and social media posts to explain the risks of Covid-19; a short rhyme or song that can be recited to ensure people are washing their hands for long enough; or a photo slideshow that shows images of the different hygiene and health symptoms to look out for.

The effectiveness of your content to deliver a message is determined by both its creativity and how tailored it is to the local culture. From photos to infographics, videos to written interviews, there are many different ways to deliver a message to a large number of people.

Case Study: UNICEF Papua New Guinea

‘Happy Baby’

We were tasked by UNICEF to create content to support the roll-out of a nationwide public health campaign in Papua New Guinea. The campaign aimed to eradicate polio tetanus via education and vaccination. The population coverage target for each of the vaccines was 75%.

Some of the material we created to support the UNICEF campaign

Our first step was to create a figurehead for the campaign that would become instantly recognisable and associated with the desired outcome; this led to the (conceptual) birth of the ‘Happy Baby’. This figurehead, coupled with characteristic colour branding, were visible on all materials including, posters, flyers, banners, t-shirts, animations and more.

The key message was: “Mothers and caregivers have their children vaccinated against polio.”

The results of the government and NGO coordinated campaign were excellent. The nationwide coverage of phase 2 was 95% with a total of 5.96 million doses administered. Such high coverage is unprecedented for Papua New Guinea; never before has the country reached such a high number of children in each and every province.

Marianna Zaichykova, The Communication for Development Specialist for UNICEF who ran the campaign said,

“Targeted, coordinated and preemptive communication campaigns are the key to success. And it’s not just about having materials on the issue, it’s about having materials on time and being able to address and answer the questions that are relevant to the public. The creative designs and messages were directly answering the needs and questions of medical workers and parents and targeting the rumors. It’s vital to listen to what people are concerned about, preempt any issues that may arise and be prepared to provide advice, help and guidance on time.”

Outbreak statistics from the year before the campaign was launched

Getting the message out there

Action Aid Sierra Leone has been working in Mbundoru and other villages throughout Bo to sensitise people to the dangers of Ebola and what preventative measures they can take to not get the virus. (Photo: Action Aid/ Kate Holt)

Your creative and engaging content is only as compelling as your communications strategy. It is important that your content is distributed in the correct places to hit your target audience effectively.

We often recommend an offline and online approach to ensure you are reaching as many people as possible. This could include designing, printing and putting up posters, working with local education initiatives, printing and distributing t-shirts, buying advertising space on local television and radio, as well as targeted adverts and posts on social media and alerts via apps.

Whatever combination of content you decide to use, its delivery should be coordinated. If the content you have created is effective, and the branding is instantly recognisable, then the message should also begin to spread via word of mouth both in-person and online.

Isatu Sesay, who is 7 years old, looks out of a window. Isatu’s mother and father both died in the recent Ebola outbreak that has so far claimed over 4000 lives in Sierra Leone, with a total of 11300 deaths in West Africa. (Photo: Action Aid/ Kate Holt)

We have over 20 years of experience in covering pandemics, most recently Ebola in West Africa and the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

We have created content for UNICEF, the WHO, Action Aid, the World Food Programme, and Medair — supporting initiatives like effective hand washing, how to limit the spread of the Ebola virus through physical contact, the need for community meetings at which a specific message could be delivered, and where people can get help when they are sick, where to get tested, or need emergency financial support.

A health worker washes their hands in chlorinated water (Photo: Action Aid/ Kate Holt)

What is clear is that Covid-19 is here to stay, so what steps should we be taking now to bolster the resilience and education of individuals in the places that need it most, the world’s poorest and least developed countries?

Let us know how we can help.


As Covid 19 spreads around the world, how do we build resilience in the communities and countries… was originally published in Arete Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.