Fighting Ignorance and Misinformation about COVID-19: The Kano Strategy

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered virus. It is a disease unknown to the world before the outbreak in Wuhan, China in December 2019. With little or no information about this novel viral disease, false and misleading information became rampant. The proliferation of this fake news especially on social media generated severe risk to public health. It impacted public perception about COVID-19. Some residents are of the opinion that the disease was produced in the laboratory to be used as a biological weapon. At the time Kano recorded its first COVID-19 case on 11th April 2020, there were challenges that had to do with risk perceptions as far as the disease was concerned. “While, the majority of Kano residents believed COVID-19 was nonexistent and a conspiracy, others argued that no positive COVID-19 patient had been documented in Kano and it was a scheme to make money by the government,’’ said Auwal Abdu Fagge, the pillar lead of risk communication and community engagement in the Kano State COVID-19 technical response.  

As part of the preparations to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, Kano state government inaugurated the State Task Force on COVID-19 response on 30th March 2020. The task force was chaired by the Deputy Governor, Dr. Nasir Yusuf Gawuna and co-chaired by Professor Habib Garba, a specialist on infectious diseases with 10 technical officers leading each thematic pillar under the task force. One of such pillars is the Risk Communication and Community Engagement Pillar led by Fagge Auwal Abdu. According to Fagge, the pillar is saddled with the responsibility of community awareness on COVID-19, community enlightenment and production of social behavioural change communication (SBCC) materials for the State. The pillar is also charged with the engagement of media and other relevant stakeholders to heighten awareness about the disease within the state. 

The risk communication and community engagement pillar worked under three components namely stakeholder engagement, media engagement and program communication. Under the first component, a stakeholder mapping was conducted, and several stakeholders were identified which comprised the traditional and religious leaders, media organizations, civil society organizations, student unions, and community-based organizations. According to Fagge, with the second wave of the pandemic, other key stakeholders were also identified including women and youth organizations. They are currently being trained and sensitized on the second wave of COVID-19 response activities in Kano state. 

The second component which is media engagement started with the identification of relevant media personnel in the state, who were trained on how to effectively disseminate messages on COVID-19. A total of 236 media personnel were identified in the state and trained as part of the task force efforts in combating the deadly disease. Fagge also stated that media discussion programs about COVID-19 were also carried out in almost all the media stations including radio and television within the state. There was also the placement of jingles on COVID-19 as a disease and on Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) protocols for COVID-19. The pillar has collaborated with the media in trying to mitigate all social ills in terms of fake news and misinformation being spread especially via social media. A lot of misinformation and rumours have been uploaded in the social media space and the community engagement pillar has addressed this by engaging social media influencers in the state who were trained and given social behavioural change communication (SBCC) materials. 

According to Dr. Bashir Lawan Muhammad, the state epidemiologist and incidence manager at the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) Kano, the risk communication and community engagement pillar is doing the needful by producing jingles, video clips and other media programs such as phone-in media programs and health talks which are to ensure that the general public is fully aware of COVID-19 and how to stay safe.

The third component is program communication which deals with the production of reference materials, the production of several Social and Behavioral Change Communication (SBCC) materials including posters, flyers, pamphlets, and billboards with key messages on COVID-19, its effect on humans, prevention, and other key information.  Currently, COVID-19 specific SBCC materials are to be produced with key messages stating the IPC expectations from the Kano state residents as far as the second wave of COVID-19 is concerned.

In Fagge’s words, a lot has been achieved on risk perception in Kano as there is an improvement compared to previous events. “Over 70% of the populace now has knowledge of the disease. Our efforts have yielded positive results’’ He said.  However, he noted that risk perception is still an issue amongst the populace. 

Development partners have also provided support in the mobilization efforts to help in containing the pandemic. There were supporting partners who have been existing in the state that assisted in the risk communication pillar activities such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organisation (WHO), LAFIA Program and CORE Group. The risk communication efforts of the government have greatly helped in creating awareness on COVID-19 as a disease as well as methods of prevention. The majority of the population adhere to the IPC guidelines on COVID-19 especially on the use of face masks. According to Shehu Bello, an Information Technology specialist  in  Kano, “COVID-19 is real and should be taken seriously by constantly washing my hands and wearing a face mask.’’ 

Kano State has made tremendous efforts in its communication efforts by reaching out to every location within the state for people to be enlightened about COVID-19 and the IPC preventive measures required to stay safe. ‘’The enlightenment campaign embarked upon by the state government has really helped in educating the populace on COVID-19 and especially on how to stay safe’’, says Sani Wada, a public servant in Kano.

This narrative was done in January 2021 as part of the #COVID19NigeriaStories documentation project on state-level responses to COVID-19, implemented by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Nigeria Health Watch with support from the Ford Foundation.

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