ICRC staff engage with the community leaders on COVID-19 awareness in Domdomia camp, Teknaf. H MAGTRAYO/ICRC

COVID-19: In no man’s land, community engagement helps people fight rumours

Along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border lies Konarpara camp. Built on no man’s land, it houses more than 620 families that were displaced from Rakhine.
Article 16 April 2020 Bangladesh

In the wake of the global COVID-19 crisis, the camp has been rife with misinformation about the virus. From believing that they will not be affected by COVID-19 to fearing that testing positive might be a "death sentence", those residing in the area have been relying on bits of information gathered from various sources. And the rumours seem to be spreading faster than the useful tips and credible guidelines on how to control the spread of this pandemic.

Concerned about this trend, community leader Arif says, "People are illiterate, and they tend to believe the rumours quickly. In fact, they think the virus will not affect them, and hence they've not been taking the health and hygiene advisories seriously."

 

ICRC staff engage with the community leaders on COVID-19 awareness in Domdomia camp, Teknaf. H MAGTRAYO/ICRC
ICRC staff engage with the community leaders on COVID-19 awareness in Domdomia camp, Teknaf. H MAGTRAYO/ICRC

Information as aid

Earlier outbreaks of highly contagious infections like diphtheria and cholera or mosquito-borne infections such as malaria and dengue show that credible and accurate communication combined with community engagement goes a long way in handling outbreaks in camps such as Konarpara. To break the chain of containment, isolation measures work much better when coupled with accurate messages to encourage and instill behavioural change. With COVID-19, nothing could be truer.

Community engagement

Working towards this end, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in partnership with the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, has put community engagement at the heart of our response. Since August 2017, when the area witnessed a massive influx of people from Myanmar's Rakhine state, we have aimed to balance our work of building and strengthening infrastructure and facilities with innovative community engagement methods to bring about a positive change in behaviour.

For Sumi, an ICRC staff member who has been working with communities in Konarpara camp on ways to improve hygiene and infection-control behaviour, COVID-19 poses a unique challenge.

Sumi conducts hygiene promotion with the community leaders in Konarpara, along the No Man’s Land where more than 600 displaced families from Rakhine reside. H MAGTRAYO/ICRC
Sumi conducts hygiene promotion with the community leaders in Konarpara, along the No Man’s Land where more than 600 displaced families from Rakhine reside. H MAGTRAYO/ICRC

"All camps, including Konarpara, are densely populated. On an average, each makeshift shelter is shared by five to ten people, who also use the same toilets. Thus, the lack of sanitation is always a concern. The preventive measures for novel coronavirus, like washing hands and physical distancing, are tougher to follow for residents of this camp, much like the overcrowded camps in Cox's Bazar."

To avoid overcrowding, the ICRC has been holding information sessions with smaller groups, primarily religious and community leaders and the women's groups in Konarpara. Popular modes of communication like posters, leaflets and audio messages are also being used to spread accurate and consistent public health messages.

Community leaders from DPR community review IEC materials on COVID-19 prevention. H MAGTRAYO/ICRC
Community leaders from DPR community review IEC materials on COVID-19 prevention. H MAGTRAYO/ICRC

After attending one such session, Nurul, a community leader, says, "I will go back and talk to my family members and neighbours about the importance of hand hygiene and other measures to protect ourselves against coronavirus. I wasn't aware that such simple things can make such a big difference."

That the ICRC is the only organization to have access to places like Konarpara camp makes it even more important that we work along with the communities in sharing credible information about the pandemic to help control the spread of COVID-19.