The COVID-19 outbreak and response have been accompanied by a massive “infodemic” that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it – this, in turn, is increasing panic. Understanding of this virus and the resulting outbreak is rapidly evolving, but information gaps have led to misconceptions, rumors, mistrust, and uncertainty that is being filled by scientific and public speculation and contradictory health evidence and information. In extreme cases, this is stopping people from protecting themselves and preventing people from seeking care.
The COVID-19 Global Risk Communication and Community Engagement Strategy, December 2020 – May 2021, published by IFRC, UNICEF and WHO, provides a framework for people-centered and community-led approaches to be championed widely – resulting in increased trust and social cohesion, and ultimately a reduction in the negative impacts of COVID-19.
Previous epidemics response experiences have vividly illustrated the need to find ways to build mutual trust, effectively engage in meaningful two-way dialogue and work with local structures and adjust interventions over time based on the feedback and perceptions of affected and at-risk communities. Evidence and experience have shown that approaches that incorporate participatory decision-making and action are more successful, more sustainable, of higher quality and cost-effective over time. Local actors like the Red Cross Red Crescent and communities have great agency and ability to act and mobilize critical community actions to ensure communities are at the centre of preparedness and response approaches and promote understanding and uptake of biomedical solutions.
As Governments in all affected countries are progressively adopting stringent movement restrictions or other measures to control transmission, people are increasingly relying on mobile phones, social media, and the internet to source information and communicate. IFRC community engagement strategies will support National Societies to capitalize on new forms of media, while acknowledging their challenges, such as the potential for misinformation to circulate rapidly and widely.
As the pandemic evolves and impacts all areas of humanitarian work globally, it is critical to capture and act on the feedback and concerns of different communities, in order to adjust programmes and build long-term trust. National Societies, in coordination with relevant stakeholders, will leverage existing social media channels and mobile phone technology (e.g. First Aid app, WhatsApp) to collect community feedback, track misinformation and provide targeted, trustworthy information to affected populations. This will combine with volunteers and communities providing up-to-date, contextually relevant information to those at risk or in need.
Community feedback mechanisms will be scaled up to gather and use contextual information and community feedback to inform response designing, monitoring and adapting the response to best fit local circumstances and needs over time. The IFRC will leverage existing promising experiences across regions and currently in the Democratic Republic of Congo to systematically collect community perception data, including community experiences of response measures, questions they may have about the outbreak and response processes, and suggested solutions. In order to ‘close the loop’, the IFRC will coordinate with key stakeholders, including media, responses to community concerns, and use community insights to inform engagement strategies and operational approaches.
Key documents and platforms about specific COVID-19 guidance communication materials for Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies.
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