The outbreak of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is making news headlines globally and has clearly affected all spheres of our lives. As a country, we are affected by the shut-down of systems in some counties, including Uganda, that are already affected.
A case in point being the declining airline business and the inability to travel across the borders for work or holiday without being quarantined. Schools and universities in many affected countries have been closed and many international meetings postponed or cancelled.
Major tourist destinations have registered a decline in tourists both locally and internationally. Travellers are being quarantined and people are being encouraged to work remotely because the virus is savagely spreading.
The need to quickly adjust as a survival and prevention measure has inevitably called for a complete change in behaviour, which many Ugandans are not accustomed to.
Communication is central to effective advocacy and as the Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, together with her team at the ministry tenaciously continue the fight to contain the spread of the virus. They have made sure the information about coronavirus is easily understood by Ugandans, who only knew about the virus when it became a global issue. We knew a thing or two about Ebola, but not coronavirus.
The minister in her own right has been consistent in her messaging and responsive both online and offline. This has been very helpful, especially, because as a trained medical doctor and of Health minister, Dr Aceng is an authority in the field and many people will not only listen, but treat her message as the absolute truth. She has been patient, courteous and acknowledged the efforts of all the health workers who are doing their best to keep Ugandans safe.
So far, it has worked and the general attitude and feedback from many Ugandans towards this effort has been positive.
However, among the citizens, many have had to change their behaviour drastically. To some people, before the coronavirus pandemic, washing hands was alien, using a sanitiser was something considered to be for the affluent, greeting without necessarily shaking hands was considered rude, let alone keeping a distance of one metre.
These are normally supposed to be basic and expected daily hygiene routines, but that has always been far from the truth. I am afraid that once the world is declared coronavirus-free, many will go back to the default behaviour of not washing hands when they need to.
A renowned lawyer Mike Okua tweeted thus…“I have watched enough Covid-19 stories and messages. The key is to overreact so we come out safe on the other side...”
The communication regarding coronavirus has definitely been received by many, especially those with modern tools of communication at their disposal. But the impact has been in the tone of the messaging.
The advocacy has been about pre-caution and why it is important to stay safe. It has been a deliberate way of trying to communicate to influence behaviour. This momentum must be kept as the message continues to be spread far and wide in every corner of Uganda until the last mile.
And beyond coronavurus, let the behavioural change continue, not because we are scared of death, but because we want a better and healthier community. As you continue to wash your hands, please stop throwing bottles out of your car windows onto the streets, urinating by the roadside and creating unnecessary lanes during a traffic jam. Let the behavioural change go beyond personal hygiene.
Ms Agena is the communications and advocacy specialist – Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM).