Changing views – communicating with Imaqal audiences on COVID-19
Somalia recorded its first case of coronavirus on 16 March 2020. Since then, the country has recorded 3,465 cases and 98 deaths.
Four months later after an initial Diagnostic survey conducted in April 2020: Africa’s Voices Foundation (AVF) reached out to Imaqal audiences in August 2020 to find out people’s opinion regarding critical COVID-19 issues in Somalia. Messages were sent out to 62,000 recipients and responses collected on 24-27 August 2020. 3,924 responded (approx. 6.3%) with over 9303 SMSs received. The demographics of participants were similar in the two phases. It was a predominantly young audience (60%) with the majority aged 18-35 years. In addition, gender distribution of participants has been consistent in both phases with approximately 60% of respondents being men.
AVF held a webinar on 16 September 2020 to share results of the second round of the rapid diagnostic of Somali views on coronavirus, and to discuss implications of the changes in viewpoints of the people on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Responding to the question – ‘Dear Imaqal Listener, your voice is important for the response to COVID-19. What are your thoughts on Coronavirus?’
Overall prevalent views in April and August remained the same: call for right practice; about coronavirus; religious hope and practice; and the dangers of coronavirus.
Change from reliance on fate and religion to more concrete knowledge on the virus
In Phase II – August there was less reliance on religion (19%) compared to Phase I -April (37.4%) and more statements on the virus itself, suggesting deeper knowledge.
Predominant voices that call for right practice to be followed were among women and the youth.
During the webinar, discussions focused on reasons why the feedback is suggesting less reliance on religion to protect against COVID-19 and more emphasis on describing the virus and its dangers, as well as following official guidelines.
It was suggested that:
- People have gained an understanding of the disease and how to prevent it. Therefore, knowledge has displaced fatalism
- Religious leaders were actively engaged in dissemination of information. Their involvement in spreading information about the virus and countering misinformation has had a positive impact
Quote from webinar participant, “unprecedented rallying across all community members with religious leaders specifically taking up a very visible role in detaching the reality of the virus from a fatalistic belief-related interpretation. They actually supported the grounding of the interpretation in supportive Islamic tradition and advice”
Another quote from a webinar participant, “the trusted messenger and framing of messages matters… so religious framing was crucial to the process of response”
Aside from the economic ramifications of COVID-19, there is need to address disruption in service delivery, especially education, the impact of which has been reported mostly by women and the youth
Participants also discussed the impact of COVID-19 on education and related impact on livelihoods. Parents cannot pursue their livelihood activities and be at home with children who require support to learn. Other barriers to accessing education such as limited internet access, lack of technology and shortage of online materials came up in the discussions. The group also deliberated on incentives that could be put in place to ensure that children, especially girls, return to school and what might work in Somalia.
Quote from webinar participant, “to ensure that girls go back to school there will be need to offer some psychosocial support. There must also be adequate cooperation among the different stakeholders, including parents and teachers”
Evidence suggests that misinformation has moved from people associating the virus with religious wrath or conspiracies to questioning the existence of the virus for some or the belief, for others, that it is over or that it has not reached them
Participants expressing rumours or misinformation related to the virus have significantly reduced (11.8% in Phase I compared to 7.9% in Phase II)
However, those expressing outright denial of the virus have increased significantly from 0.9% to 3.6%
The research identified the need for more emphasis on the fact that the virus is real, suggesting a debate in society between those who deny it and those who need to emphasise the contrary.
What does this mean?
- The evidence suggests a positive impact of the inter-agency taskforce for Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) through multiple, trusted messengers, indicating that this is the most effective strategy for Somalia
- Concerted efforts are required to get children back to school. AVF, MESH and Media Action should come together and use the evidence gathered so far to advocate for funding and action from organisations, including UNICEF. They should oversee the roll-out of incentives for education based on learning from other countries
- In case of a ‘2nd wave’ of COVID-19 there will be need for a targeted RCCE campaign to avert the voices of denial and misinformation