4/3/2020
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Corona Virus: Public information will save lives in Somalia

by Liban Obsiye
Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Federal Goverment of Somalia  has been proactive in addressing the corona virus and, like everywhere else in the world, there are meetings after meetings on this global issue. A facility has been identified for quarantining and treating the victims of the virus and schools and universities have been ordered to close. The Minister of Health Dr. Fawziya Abikar confirmed the first case of Corona Virus in Somalia this week and since everybody has been panicked. Flights to Mogadishu are suspended and the President and Prime Minister have spoken to the nation and advised citizens to avoid meeting in large numbers. All this is a good start, but the most important thing is for the Somali people to remain calm, vigilant and follow public health instructions.

The Minister of Health has been proactive in the media but the Ministry of Health needs to provide more information to the public. The Minister has spoken well so far but with a focus on the developments of the virus in Somalia. What the Ministry needs to do now and, very quickly, is to explain what the virus is, its symptoms, how it affects people, how to protect oneself and what will happen if someone contracts it. Taking the lead in communicating these clearly, through diverse media platforms, including TV, Radio, websites and social media is a must. “The Corona Virus is real and it can be deadly but it is manageable” should be the overall government message. This should be re-enforced by a narrative focused on Somalia's ability to rise to the challenge of managing the virus effectively as a result of preparation and readiness and this must come through more strongly through government actions. In times of grave challenges like now, panic is simply not an option. The Government must continue to demonstrate control and transmit confidence by leading from the front.

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In times of global crisis like now it is fundamental that the governments in developing countries like Somalia, which is slowly recovering from a very long difficult past, capitalise on existing global efforts and solidarity to plug the technical, financial and informational gaps that naturally exists. The Somali Federal Government's partners, both bilateral and multilateral, including the World Health Organization, have to work closely together to share knowledge, experience and available resources to overcome the challenge of corona virus in one of the most vulnerable countries in the world as a result of the weak health and social service infrastructure. The corona virus should also be a wakeup call for all development partners including the international financial institutions to accelerate necessary and available investment in poverty reduction, resilience and human capital given Somalia’s on going successful reform led journey towards debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.

The best mitigator of, and defence against, corona virus and other global health issues at the national level in Somalia is better public health information. This information needs to be easy to understand, well targeted to its audience and, above all, evidence based. How do the public keep themselves and others safe? This should be the focus of the information campaign as it will make the public positively proactive rather than negatively living in fear and with suspicion. A good start is to bring the recent World Health Organization’s online information campaign to the public attention and translate and adapt it for the Somali audience. Another good international practice is to send health advise messages through mobile phones of which most Somalis, including those in rural settings, have access to. Assumptions, hearsay and loose talk like is usual in coffee shops will cause panic and harm the wider political, socio-economic and security gains made to date.

In public health policy and economics, it is a cliché that prevention is better than cure. Yet, this cliché is what will save lives and prevent unnecessary panic and fear in Somalia where the corona virus is concerned. Prevention requires timely evidence based information first and foremost, followed closely by targeted policy actions, especially, in recovering countries like Somalia with weak health and social care infrastructure.

Insh Allah May Allah SWT keep all of us safe and provide speedy recovery to those who need assistance. Ameen.

The author can be reached through:
[email protected]
@LibanObsiye (Twitter)



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