March 2020 brought with it a pandemic that impacted people across the globe and one year down the line, the condition has worsened. In its second wave, COVID-19, which until recently was restricted to high-density areas and urban localities, has now seeped into villages and remote communities. Its new strains are not only more easily transferable but have also been shown to cause new symptoms and complications. In addition to this, the crippling strain on the healthcare system and the virus reaching ‘too close to home’ has led to an increased amount of uncertainty and fear in people’s minds leading to stress, anxiety, and a feeling of helplessness.
Amidst this chaos, another challenge of regulating misinformation in the form of myths, rumours, etc. has also cropped up. While an interconnected world does provide easy access to information on different aspects of COVID-19 - health implications, treatment, or vaccination - an overflow of misleading and false information, especially from unreliable sources is proving detrimental in the fight against the virus. This ‘infodemic’ has caused an increase in the prevalence of fake news, rumours, half-information, and misinformation. News like ‘5G testing is causing an increase in COVID-19 cases’ or‘ ‘Wearing a mask leads to more diseases’’‘ has been continuously flooding people’s WhatsApp, Instagram, and other social media platforms. Additionally, since the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, the vast ocean of misinformation has only increased, making people apprehensive towards the vaccine and thereby hindering the vaccination process adversely.
Three challenges are pushing us back in the fight against COVID-19.
a) lack of awareness,
b) stress and its implications on mental health
c) misinformation and lack of access to reliable sources of communication
The effects of these three challenges are further amplified in remote or marginalized communities, where resources are scarce and access to basic medical care is limited, and in some cases, even absent.
Hence, it is deemed crucial to build a comprehensive communication strategy to build confidence and capacity of communities in ensuring people understand the importance of containing the virus.
Cognizant of this need, Pratham has initiated a health-focused multi-pronged campaign called ‘Karona Apni Suraksha’ (KAS) to disseminate reliable information around COVID-19 and its different aspects. The initiative aims to prepare the community for tackling false information, stopping the spread of the virus, and encouraging people to opt for timely medical care. An underlying goal of the initiative is to also provide the people a safe space to express their worries and discuss their queries.
‘Karona Apni Suraksha’ is a communication campaign dedicated to providing correct and reliable information to the last mile, in an easily palpable manner. It focuses on bridging the information gap prevailing at the grassroots level and connecting community members to health experts and doctors directly to ensure the flow of safe and reliable communication.
Additionally, the initiative also hopes to relieve stress by providing an open channel to ask questions, discuss concerns, and bust myths. The campaign makes use of two tools to reach the target audience and engage with them in an efficient and impactful manner – Messages and Discussion platforms.
Capsule-sized Contextualised Information
Pratham understood that the lack of COVID-related information was not the issue, but rather the willingness of people to seek and consume the information that was already available. Taking this into account, PraDigi is creating informative resources in interactive mediums in 12 languages. These resources include audio-visuals, messages, and posters, that are disseminated via WhatsApp, SMS, YouTube. PraDigi has also partnered with organizations specializing in healthcare, such as Noora Health, Public Health Foundation of India, Abhivyakti Health and Educational Services and Muktaa Charitable Foundation to ensure the creation of updated, easily comprehensible content that is accurate and relevant. Additionally, credible resources shared in the public domain by WHO, Stanford Medicine, and Govt. of India, Govt. of Australia, etc. are also utilized for the same.
Check out free resources on Covid-19 Awareness in 12 languages here.
The idea of holding the ‘Karona Apni Suraksha’ discussions stems from the need of addressing questions and concerns of the community members directly. The Discussion platforms serve as a great tool to interact with the community and engage with them in real-time, giving them an open space to discuss their fears and concerns.
Incidentally, webinars are also useful in ascertaining whether the community members are just passive receivers of information or active participants who regularly engage with the content and implement them personally. Currently, PraDigi is organizing webinars on two aspects - COVID 19 Awareness and Mental Health.
COVID 19 Awareness: Covering 10-50 villages at a time, health webinars are being organized in regional languages to address misinformation and bust myths. People across the spectrum, be it rural or urban communities, are constantly being subjected to fake news and rumours that hinder the prevention and increase apprehensiveness towards the Covid vaccine. It is not uncommon to hear claims like ‘vaccination is unsafe for menstruating women’, ‘vaccination causes COVID or death’, ‘Eating chicken or meat causes COVID’, ‘Drinking alcohol makes one safe from COVID’ etc. The sessions are specifically organised to bust these myths and resolve any queries that participants may have. A separate series of virtual sessions are also conducted on specific topics related to health and awareness, that are open to the general public. They are conducted in collaboration with the Public Health Foundation of India and are titled ‘Ask The Doctor’, to encourage community members to come forward and share their concerns.
Mental Health: ‘Mental Health Hai Pratham’ - A series of virtual sessions focusing on mental health and wellness are also being organized for youth, leaders, and other members of the community, to help combat their stress and worries. These sessions are conducted in regional languages by mental health professionals from organizations such as Jan Sahas and The Banyan. So far, 5 such sessions focusing on mental health and care have been conducted.
A two-way mechanism of communication is established, using a streamlined dissemination and feedback system. Pratham representatives at the field level directly reach out to community members, share the information, and get their thoughts, feedback, and learnings on the overall campaign and the COVID situation in their vicinity.
At the outset of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, people, specifically in rural India, have been severely affected by the rampant spread of COVID-19 and are left in dire need of assistance. Rural Covid-19 caseload spurt is a big challenge, not just in terms of lack of access to healthcare but also in terms of lack of access to accurate information.
It is certain that COVID-19 cannot be defeated individually and the only way of coming out of this pandemic victorious is by supporting and helping each other in any way possible. As the campaign progresses, there is a hope to create an aware and well-informed network that will be sustainable and effective in reaching out and supporting more and more people.
About the Authors
Gillprit works as a Senior Associate in the Digital Innovations team at Pratham. Passionate about leveraging technology to build capacities, she leads YouthNet and its subsidiary programs under the 'Preparation for Work' vertical.
Khushboo is currently working with the Digital Innovations team at Pratham. She has previously studied at Ashoka University, the University of Oxford, and the University of Mumbai. She is passionate about the development space, always doing a little bit of a lot of stuff, and enjoys learning new things.