Raising awareness of COVID-19 in IraqPublished: May 7, 2020 Reading time: 5 minutes
When COVID-19 arrived in Iraq earlier this year, the country’s leaders responded quickly. Despite challenges due to recent conflict with ISIL and the resulting internal displacement, officials rapidly curtailed people’s movements, and by early May, the Iraqi Ministry of Health had reported more than 2,300 infections and nearly 100 coronavirus-related deaths.
People in Need (PIN) has helped facilitate the swift Iraqi reaction. In April, we launched efforts to raise awareness of the disease, including going door-to-door in Mosul, and starting a Facebook campaign to bring information on prevention and symptoms to tens of thousands of people in Nineveh Governorate.
PIN’s quick reaction was possible thanks to an ongoing project to support resilience for host communities, returnees and internally displaced people in Iraq, funded by the European Union (EU), through the EU Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian crisis, the EU Madad Fund and Czech Republic Development Cooperation. In cooperation with our project partner, Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH), and our trusted partners ACTED and Welthungerhilfe (WHH) from Alliance2015, we were able to adapt the activities of this project to incorporate COVID-19 prevention measures.
"Even before the coronavirus pandemic, PIN was focused on the rehabilitation of the damaged water network in the urban areas of Mosul,” says Wael Saad, a PIN Program Manager in the country. “We conducted a campaign to change behavior with regards to water use, sanitation, and hygiene to ensure best hygiene practices within the community. We knew that access to clean water and proper hygiene are crucial to preventing the outbreak of COVID-19."
Customized messages for 1,000 families
The door-to-door campaign proved to be the most effective way to raise awareness within communities. "Through the personal interaction between residents and our trained hygiene promoters, the message becomes customized for each of the targeted families,” says Saad. “We are able to answer their specific questions and dispel various myths circulating within the community."
The door-to-door visits have a number of components. First, after an initial introduction, hygiene promoters explain what the coronavirus is, and then describe the symptoms of COVID-19 and how it is transmitted. Next, "the visit continues with an explanation of hygiene practices that prevent transmission and protect people, including good respiratory hygiene and handwashing practices, such as the use of the 20-second-rule," says Saad. At the end of the 10- to 15-minute visit, the residents receive a leaflet with additional information, including a telephone number that they can call to leave feedback. Safety measures are followed throughout the visit to protect both the residents and the PIN team.
Before the launch of the PIN effort, people received information about the novel coronavirus mostly from television. Saad says: "In 10 targeted neighborhoods, PIN is the first organization that actually knocks on people’s doors, shares awareness messages personally, and answers their questions and concerns."
Dispelling common myths
People like 64-year-old Duraid, a father of six, appreciate the personal visits. "These visits are very useful for the community because many of us don’t have access to the internet or other information sources,” says Duraid. “Thanks to this project, we learned how to make homemade disinfectant, which was new for us. We will also keep our distance from others and stay home in order to protect our families."
People often have questions about common myths circulating within the community, which largely concern the use of alternative medicines and natural remedies to cure COVID-19. "People sometimes believe that eating garlic and onion increases their immunity and prevents them from being infected by the virus,” says Saad. “Other common myths are that drinking lemon juice, rich in vitamin C, decreases the chance of getting the virus, or that drinking warm water and inhaling smoke from the peganum plant can prevent or treat the disease.”
Before the home visits, Shamsa and her 10 family members received all of their COVID-19-related information from TV, or through phone messages from the Ministry of Health and the Crisis Management Cell. "PIN staff very kindly answered our questions and concerns; it was useful since we do not have access to the internet," says the 50-year-old housewife. "We received new information on good handwashing practices and learned how to make homemade disinfectant. We are now also aware that good handwashing techniques and staying at home decrease the risk of getting sick."
Social media campaign reaches 300,000 Facebook users
PIN’s hygiene promoters have already visited more than 1,000 families. In addition to the door-to-door campaign, the PIN team is also hanging posters to raise awareness throughout the targeted neighborhoods, and running a social media campaign on the People in Need Iraq Facebook page, which has reached almost 300,000 social media users to-date. "Due to the lockdown measures imposed by the local authorities, access to residents was a challenge. Therefore, in order to spread information and awareness to as many people in the Nineveh Governorate as possible, we decided to launch the social media campaign in parallel," explains Saad.
PIN Iraq is now looking into options for the distribution of COVID-19 kits to students from 10 schools that were part of another component, the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program. "We are planning to hold awareness sessions for students as soon as schools reopen. Depending on the situation, we may resume door-to-door activities in May," says PIN’s Head of Programs in Iraq, Barbara Boranga. “We are also planning COVID-19 related awareness sessions for businesses. At the same time we are assessing the economic impact of COVID-19 on businesses and people’s employment and are looking for ways to support them.”
All of these initiatives are being conducted as part of the "Supporting Resilience for Host Communities, Returnees, and Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq" project, which is funded by the European Union (EU), through the EU Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian crisis, the EU Madad Fund and the Czech Republic Development Cooperation. The project partners will support 100,000 people in Iraq.
The project is implemented by ACTED, PIN, Welthungerhilfe (WHH), and Polish Humanitarian Action. PIN, ACTED, and WHH are members of Alliance2015, a strategic partnership of eight leading European humanitarian and development NGOs that has delivered 202 million euros in aid to Iraq.