As COVID-19 and lockdown hit Zimbabwe, the Nehemiah Project became part of the Bulawayo City Health Department’s COVID-19 Risk Communications and Community Engagement Team and began to disseminate lifesaving health information about the virus.
The Nehemiah Project team started in the week before lockdown by distributing pamphlets around Cowdray Park, targeting the markets and shops. By distributing correct information, they managed to dispel myths such as, “Coronavirus only affects the white and elite population.”
After lockdown, the team used the project vehicle to reach more areas including rural communities and the squatter camp, taking on any role needed. As well as distributing literature, the Nehemiah team have printed and put up banners and posters; helped with testing; and addressed crowds of people with COVID-19 information.
The dire economic situation in Zimbabwe means that the team face challenges in getting people to change their behaviour and adhere to lockdown rules such as social distancing – as many vulnerable people have felt forced to continue with ‘business as usual.’
Most have to go shopping to buy supplies like mealie meal to survive and the queues bring large numbers of people together. Vendors continue their businesses as, without this source of income, their families would starve. Hand sanitiser and facemasks have been scarce.
The City Health Department has commended the team for a job well done and are receiving feedback showing that the message is being heard and that the most vulnerable, at risk communities are being reached. The team have to be persistent and continue with relaying their educational messages on staying at home, social distancing and hygiene to reduce COVID-19 transmission - as behaviour change is not something that will be achieved overnight.
After many awareness campaigns, and talks with shop owners, improvements in social distancing have been achieved, hand sanitizers are now available for customers to use in shops, and people have been encouraged to make their own masks at home. The COVID-19 awareness campaign is also having a positive impact on Nehemiah’s HIV awareness work as more communities are hearing about project.