Getting COVID-19 Messages the Last Mile

03 Mar 2021

Some rural settlements in Ghana are so isolated that they don’t even get radio signals.

In the past, most of these settlements used gong-gongs – pieces of metal hit with a stick – to get people’s attention to share important news, such as upcoming funerals and immunization campaigns in the village. In recent years, getting messages out became easier with the creation of community information centers. Often housed in people’s homes or shops, they were outfitted with microphones and loudspeakers mounted on tall poles to enable citizens around the community to hear crucial announcements.

COVID-19

Arthur Mmanu Asekye shares COVID-19 messages from his home in rural Ghana.

Last year, the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs-led Breakthrough ACTION project, working with the Ghana Health Service, began using those information centers for a new purpose: To share accurate COVID-19 messages with the widest audience possible .

“Reaching vulnerable and underserved populations with messages about COVID-19 prevention is a key concern for the Ghana Health Service as these messages are the driving force for behavior change in communities,” says CCP’s Mark Ossom, a program officer in Ghana. “People who live in underserved communities are frequently denied the information that they need to either protect or improve their lives. Community-based information centers have evolved to fill this information gap.”

The recorded messages are delivered by prominent community, religious and traditional leaders in eight local languages as well as in English, with the goal of improving compliance with COVID-19 prevention measures and protocols. The loudspeakers, mounted 15- to 25-feet up, can be heard by people in their homes in all directions. The messages have addressed COVID-19-induced mental health problems and stigma, as well as COVID-19 prevention, such as handwashing with soap under running water, using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, physical distancing and wearing a face mask.

“With the jingles in the local language, our people now believe COVID-19 is real and have now adopted the preventive measures,” says Awuley Mensah, an assemblyman in Krobo Odumase, Ghana.

Adds CCP’s Mavis Osafo, a program officer in Ghana: “Community members feel they have been thought of when they hear something specifically for them.”

Osafo and her colleagues have received positive feedback. “When we had a spot about face masks in places where people weren’t regularly wearing them, it was something the communities took in good faith,” she says. “They connected with it and were able to perform the actions.”

More than 35,000 people have heard the messages across Ghana through the information centers, 50 of which have been used by the project in three regions of the country.

“In many rural parts of Ghana, where there is no radio coverage, this is the main means of mass communication for many people,” Ossom says. “In some cases, it is the only way to reach rural people with lifesaving information.”

The information isn’t only being shared in rural areas. Some of the messages are shared in places such as bus stations and marketplaces in more urban locations. The CCP team says they have received encouraging feedback from these urban information centers, with more people wearing masks to prevent COVID-19 than before after they heard prevention messages.

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