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reliefweb - 1 month ago

In Afghanistan, Health Workers Fight Misinformation to Curb COVID-19

Country: Afghanistan Source: World Bank Story Highlights: In Afghanistan, a government livelihood support program for impoverished communities has been scaled up to fight misinformation and help curb the spread of COVID-19. Working with community elders, health workers disseminate public health messages and vital medical information to communities. Health and social sector teams have also encouraged villagers to use latex gloves or disposable masks only once. SURKH-ROD DISTRICT, Nangarhar Province Residents of the Qala-e-Naw village, which sits west of Jalalabad city in eastern Afghanistan, became frantic when they first heard about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the havoc it could wreak on people s health. Many turned to antibiotics to ward off the disease despite their ineffectiveness over viruses. Taking a course of antibiotics was also the intended line of defense for Qamara, a mother of six, and her family until she sought advice from health workers and changed her mind. They told me not to take any medication without a doctor s prescription, she says. The threat of COVID-19 looms large in Afghanistan. By May 17, the country had officially confirmed 2,469 cases of the disease since the first case was recorded in Herat Province in February. But misinformation about the disease has spread even faster. With less than half of the population literate, most people in Afghanistan lack proper access to modern forms of communication let alone electricity, making it difficult to disseminate COVID-19 advisories and prevention messages. Anecdotes and unfounded evidence about the pandemic circulate quickly among communities, skewing perceptions and resulting in noncompliance with health instructions and medical guidelines. To raise awareness and dispel myths about the pandemic**, **health specialists from the government s livelihood support program, Targeting the Ultra Poor (TUP), have joined forces with influential community elders in impoverished villages across three districts of the Nangarhar province. Najibullah, a TUP health specialist, met with the community elders of Qala-e-Naw village and explained how taking unprescribed medicine for COVID-19 could trigger adverse side effects. Through this engagement, Najibullah and his colleagues were successful in keeping more residents from taking antibiotics. They also described precautionary measures recommended by Afghanistan s Ministry of Public Health and the World Health Organization, such as social distancing and face masks. Now, mullahs and other community leaders are disseminating COVID-19 prevention messages to villagers in community gatherings and mosques, while also observing these rules. Meanwhile, health and social sector teams have encouraged villagers to use latex gloves or disposable masks only once. The village is learning to make masks from washable fabric that can be reused. They advised us to use masks and gloves and wash our hands frequently with soap and water, says Qamara. We ve learned that if anyone feels sick, they should stay home and contact a doctor if their symptoms worsen. We have also learned that COVID-19 spreads from one person to another, so we have to wear a mask and keep a distance of at least one meter from each other. As part of the World Bank s Afghanistan Access to Finance Project, TUP aims to improve the economic conditions of destitute families through livelihood support. It is implemented through the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MISFA) in the Behsood, Kama, and Surkh-Rod districts in Nangarhar province by the nonprofit WADAN (Welfare Association for the Development of Afghanistan). Qamara is one of over 2,000 beneficiaries of the TUP program in the province. She received a cow and calf as well as information on hygiene and animal husbandry from the program last March. Our lives are imp we now sell milk to dairy shops and our neighbors, and drink some ourselves, she says. We receive [other] health tips that help keep our children and us healthier. Her husband, Rahim Gul, sells sugar cane for a living. The TUP program has been successful in improving the well-being of 7,500 extremely poor households in six provinces Balkh, Kabul, Kandahar, Kunar, Laghman, and Takhar. It is now expanding in Nangarhar and Pawan provinces and aims to benefit a further 5,000 households. Like other World Bank and Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) projects, TUP has been scaled up to help limit COVID-19 outbreaks, spread life-saving messages, and help communities cope with the social and economic impacts of the virus. The World Bank was one of the first international organizations to help the country in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, it has provided $100.4 million in emergency support to the government.


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