Heal Zimbabwe Trust works with community peace structures and woman safe spaces for reconciliation to promote social accountability and gender equality in Gutu, Zaka and Bikita. The organisation noted with concern worrying reports from the community peace structures that people were receiving false information about the pandemic due to inaccessibility to reliable messages from the relevant Ministry and other authentic sources of verified information. The fake news and information were actually spreading more than the pandemic itself. This generated a sense of uncertainty and fear among the community members, despondency and alarm that created unnecessary panic with the possible consequences of derailing the community preparedness and fight against the pandemic. The communities relied heavily on social media reports about COVID-19 and other unauthentic sources of information such as mere grapevine. Unverified and sometimes life threatening information is being circulated on social media platforms especially Whatsapp making it very difficult for the rural communities to fully comprehend the situation at hand.
Heal Zimbabwe Trust therefore took it upon itself to help the rural communities receive correct and verified information about the disease to enhance community understanding of the pandemic and aid their responsiveness to the same. This is in line with the recommendations made by WHO in their Monitoring and Evaluation Framework and Tools for Risk Communication/ Community Engagement (RCCE) & Covid-19. WHO urges governments to assess and respond to rumours and misunderstandings about the virus, fears and concerns that develop among community members and above all the information needs of community members and intended audience. Heal Zimbabwe responded through the creation of online communication platforms.
The organisation created 3 Whatsapp groups in the 3 districts of Gutu, Zaka and Bikita on the 24th of April 2020. Each group has a membership of about hundred people that actively participate in the discussions initiated in the group about the pandemic.
According to the group members, there is now clarity on issues that includes what really the covid pandemic is, social distancing and what it means, the face masks and how they are used and made at home, how to care about the infected members of the family or community, hygiene especially the washing of hands to prevent the spread of the disease, update on the statistics in Zimbabwe and around the globe. Of particular importance is the knowledge gained by lactating mothers in general on how they must take care of their babies and other children when they are infected.
The members of the group indicated that they also help spread the correct information they receive on the platform to their families and other community members when they meet at the water points, community gardens and at relief food distribution centers. At times, the social welfare officers responsible for the food distribution allow the group members to share their knowledge with other community members by giving them a chance to address the people during the occasions of relief food distribution. This has helped a great deal in demystifying the pandemic and the effects that it can potentially have on the community. Group members also indicated that they disseminate the information to other social media groups including farming groups, women groups and other social community groupings.
Visual meetings and discussion on the pandemic are conducted on the platforms and information and news shared from reliable sources. Information is verified by Heal Zimbabwe Trust before it is shared on to the platforms. There is a lot of feedback from the communities on the state of affairs in their communities and group members share their views about the pandemic. Questions are asked on the platform and the Heal Zimbabwe Trust do massive consultations and research before responses are shared on the questions asked by the community members. Besides, Heal Zimbabwe Trust has also enlisted the services of medical doctors added to the group to respond to some of the questions asked by the group members. The level of interaction in the groups is very high and knowledge sharing is excellent.
This has helped a great deal in demystifying the pandemic and the effects that it can potentially have on the community. Group members also indicated that they disseminate the information to other social media groups including farming groups, women groups and other social community groupings. This has worked wonders in the dissemination of correct and verified information about the pandemic. One of the group members of the Zaka Information Center, Rosemary Mubairi said, ‘when I receive the correct information sent through the group, I make sure that l relay it to other Whatsapp groups that l am a member of to ensure that the information
Heal Zimbabwe Trust implores the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare to increase efforts towards raising community awareness on the pandemic. This can be achieved through sending out teams to the rural communities to educate people on the same. Some rural communities have no access to national and community radio stations and cellular networks are erratic resulting in the spreading of fake information through the social media and grapevine.