Fighting COVID-19 with information

I could see the concern in the eyes of my fellow staff as they shared the rumors that were spreading like wildfire.

“Is it true that it makes people suddenly drop dead?”

“Is it true that drinking lemon juice will kill the virus?”

I could see the concern in the eyes of my fellow staff as they shared the rumors that were spreading like wildfire. As the COVID-19 virus was moving into Europe and the Middle East, we met frequently here in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan. From this base, Medair reaches some of the most remote villages in the harsh mountains of the Hindu Kush.

I am a public health nurse. When faced with something like this pandemic, I know how powerful simple, accurate information can be. I want to make sure that each staff member has the most up to date information so we can deliver a consistent message of prevention – and hope – to every person we serve.

During one of our first information sessions with Medair drivers and guards, we reviewed the risk factors that make someone more vulnerable to COVID-19. We also talked about early evidence that suggested children were less likely to develop serious symptoms. One driver could not contain his excitement – he pulled out his phone to call his wife and tell her the good news. She was terrified of losing all their children in this strange plague that she had heard only rumours about.

A Medair vehicle makes its way to a remote community in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan (2019).

In the remote villages served by Medair’s Nutrition and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) teams, even non-medical staff members are briefed with the most current information. Getting the messages out, and quashing harmful or unhelpful rumours, is now everyone’s job. Staff delivering bundles of soap are also educating families on handwashing technique and physical distancing. Mobile nutrition team members are training local volunteers on the latest recommendations to slow the spread of the virus and keep families safe.

One local volunteer shared how people gained confidence after hearing that there were simple ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“At first, people were very afraid. They asked me if it was true that they could cure the virus with black tea or by burning certain roots and inhaling the smoke. But then I showed the pictures that Medair gave me, and explained about correct handwashing and not shaking hands or gathering in groups. Now people are more confident, because they can easily do these things.”

A mother and her child in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan.

Our team in Afghanistan continues to monitor for new rumors, myths, and misconceptions, and is providing simple, evidence-based education on slowing the spread of COVID-19. With information comes hope; hope that vulnerable families in these remote areas are not helpless, but are able to take simple measures to protect themselves.

Together, we are replacing vulnerability with strategy, and fear with knowledge.

Medair is an international humanitarian NGO that provides emergency relief and recovery services to families made vulnerable by natural disasters, conflicts, and other crises. Medair is currently active in 12 countries.

This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and Global Support Office staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.