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"This initiative is a homegrown blueprint for the particular challenges presented by COVID-19 in Kenya and other developing countries."

Safe Hands Kenya is a coalition of businesses and community organisations that have come together to address COVID-19 in Kenya by delivering soap, hand-washing stations, and masks. Realising that it is not enough to provide these tools - people need to know how to use them, and must actually want to use them - the alliance of companies created a nationwide communication campaign to drive new hygiene-related behaviours. Launched in April 2020, #TibaNiSisi, or "We Are The Cure" in Swahili aims to motivate all Kenyans to play an active and leading role in protecting vulnerable community members through good hygiene practices.

Communication Strategies: 

The Tiba Ni Sisi campaign puts the emphasis on what we can all do - simply and for free - to protect our own health, to prevent the spread of the virus, and to help save lives. It informs people about practical and immediate measures they can take, while also persuading people that individuals can make a difference and encouraging everyone to take personal responsibility in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Over and above the behavioural change issues, the campaign is working to cut through the fear, addressing the misinformation and myths that surround the management of COVID-19, such as whether alcohol can cure coronavirus (as advocated by former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko) or antibiotics can be used to treat the coronavirus (the resounding answer: no, they cannot).

Village Creative, a member of the Safe Hands Kenya coalition, developed a creative approach that uses colourful visuals and language to stand out as a strong, compelling call to action without using scare tactics. It is designed to motivate user-generated content so people can share stories of how they are adopting the mantra "We are the cure" and demonstrating "I am the cure". People who visit #TibaNiSisi's website can test their knowledge through quizzes; they can engage with the campaign's social media links [Facebook page; Twitter feed; YouTube channel], where they are asked to:

  • Stop the spread: Protect yourself and others from the virus - through simple behaviour identified through campaign graphics.
  • Join the cause: Help get the word out - such as by engaging with the hashtag #TibaNiSisi.
  • Show the world how you are being the cure - such as by branding your current Facebook profile picture to show what actions you are taking to stop the spread.

Community partnerships have been key to getting the messages across by using WhatsApp and local activations - from skateboarding to music. #TibaNiSisi has also uncovered a range of new influencers, respected in their communities, who have modelled the behaviour and spread the message that "We are the cure". These include trash collectors, graffiti artists, and former prisoners who have turned their lives around. The campaign has also engaged subject matter experts like Doctor Masika (virologist from Nairobi University) in doing instructional videos, as well as more traditional social media influencers in Kenya, such as Collins Injera, Olympian and Rugby 7s star, and well-known musicians, disc jockeys (DJs), stand-up comedians, and artists.

#TibaNiSisi has also been promoted using 30- and 90-second TV and radio spots, with a promotion on Ghetto Radio, a large Kenyan Sheng station (a mix of Swahili and English). In addition, the campaign  consists of print ads, songs, educational animations, and instructional videos for use on social media, with a focus on proper hand-washing, mask usage, and do-it-yourself (DIY) hand-washing stations. The brand has also been used on t-shirts, masks, posters, leaflets, hand-washing stations, and co-created art pieces.

The creative team adapted content to events, tailoring messages over Easter and Mother's Day, for example, while also targeting specific messages to vulnerable communities, such as those with disabilities. The team increased media spending on radio stations popular in Eastleigh and Mombasa, where the majority of the country's Muslim population live, due to the spike in cases seen during Ramadan, as people gathered to break the fast each day.

Development Issues: 


Key Points: 

Water scarcity, poor water quality, and inadequate sanitation are not new to communities in Kenya, where 90% of the population does not have access to hand-washing facilities, so preventable diseases continue to spread. In a context where, according to Safe Hands Kenya, people have little faith in the capacity of public health systems, a new pandemic threat with no vaccine and no cure can compound the feeling of inevitability of serious illness and deepen the sense of powerlessness.

Safe Hands Kenya explains that, for people who work one day to buy food the next, asking people to use soap (typically used mainly for washing clothes) to wash their hands after touching any surface that could be infected is a new dimension. Expectations around wearing masks and social distancing are also new. Adapting the messages in communities where social distancing is nearly impossible and working from home is not an option has been key to the COVID response in Kenya. In short, communications has to be part of any response, informing people why and how to use products that are distributed.

The alliance built a geospatial demand and supply allocation map and collectively distributes basic goods - using technology - to small retailers, within reach of all Kenyan households. All members have pledged to uphold 3 key principles: (i) zero margin: this is for impact, not profit; (ii) speed is critical: every day counts; and (iii) last-mile saturation: leave no one behind. In the process, it is hoped that the actions up and down Safe Hands Kenya's supply chain will spur economic activity and act as a stimulus for Kenyan families working within local manufacturing and supply chains.

Safe Hands Kenya believes that #TibaNiSis could have an impact long after the pandemic has subsided, continuing to keep communities safe while also changing behaviour that might reduce other diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea that have had such a devastating impact on families and communities.

Partner Text: 

The Safe Hands Kenya alliance includes technology-based distribution companies, input suppliers, manufacturers, media houses, and community organisations. The full-time project team includes experts across supply chains, user experience, and behavioural change. Click here to view the logos of the Safe Hands Kenya coalition partners. The Village Creative is the key #TibaNiSis implementer.

Contacts (user reference): 
See video

Emails from Ali Merifield to The Communication Initiative on April 8 2020 and May 29 2020; and "Safe Hands Kenya launches unique approach to combat COVID-19" [PDF],Safe Hands Kenya website, and #TibaNiSisi's website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and YouTube channel - all accessed on May 29 2020. Image credit: Safe Hands Kenya

It is not easy to explain the concepts behind community networks, both the technical characteristics of radio frequency networks and the social and human aspects of community technologies.

Can a comic help?

Let us know what you think, and please share any other examples on how to make the work behind community-owned networks more accessible to a wider audience:

  <h4>Strategic Briefing</h4>
Warren Parker
Riyas Fadal
Yasmin Goga
Mahmood Jagot
Ravin Singh
Publication Date
Friday, May 22, 2020

"COVID-19 prevention is possible through organized and well-disciplined responses that follow a whole society approach. That is, a partnership between government and civil society."

South Africa and other countries in the global South have had the benefit of instituting lockdowns at an early stage of the COVID-19 epidemic. However, lack of consensus within COVID-19 response structures, including from a communication perspective, from the national level downwards could jeopardise the advantage gained through that early mobilisation. This document offers a perspective from global experiences and highlights lessons that can be drawn from responses in other countries to nuance the South African effort to address COVID-19. It also raises concerns about deference to response models and prevention guidance that are impeding the South African response.

Contacts (user reference): 

Email from Warren Parker to The Communication Initiative on May 25 2020.

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Created by the University of Maryland's student group Public Health without Borders, “Look Like a Hero: Mask Up” is a public service announcement (PSA) designed to encourage and normalize the mask wearing among elementary school aged children. In an effort to improve attitudes, the PSA describes mask usage based on the World Health Organization’s recommendations. It offers age appropriate information on the importance of mask wearing and how to properly put on and take off one’s mask.

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The coronavirus epidemic has impacted populations in so many ways - health and beyond. We have seen a rise in unemployment, food insecurity, domestic violence, financial instability for individuals, SMEs, employers and employees. 

Takwimu seeks to support changemakers with data and insights in key areas to help drive advocacy and policy change. We are surveying our user base of NGOs, CSOs and activists across the continent to find out how they are using data-driven information to respond to the pandemic, and what information they need most to help in their COVID response.


We would be grateful if organisations could take a few minutes to complete the short survey:

In English:

In French:

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Turning the ship around – adapting a long-term SBCC initiative to respond quickly to Covid-19.

Elena Colonna, PCI Media Mozambique

Covid-19 is forcing many communications organizations to adjust their Entertainment Education programs to address issues around the virus. Like many of you, PCI Media has been considering how to make best use of the assets we have, and the popular programming we already create with our partners.

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"Health and behavioural change communication...needs to be highly context relevant: free of jargon, empathetic, in local language and speech forms, and tailored to local socio-cultural identities and norm-change models. It has to start with listening to Somalis."

Communication Strategies: 

Launched in early 2019, Imaqal is premised on a theory of change that prioritises how media can shift perceptions of social norms by amplifying positive narratives in social and discursive settings. It consists of a radio magazine, aired weekly nationwide, and two seasons of radio drama. Audiences interact with the shows by responding to open-ended questions posed on air via SMS (text messaging) to a free shortcode. Besides a large national radio listenership, Imaqal has engaged an audience of over 50,000 people. This followership is skewed towards urban/internally displaced person (IDP)/youth segments of the population and has a strong representation of women - all of whom are key groups of concern with COVID-19 in the Somali context.

The diagnostic asked the existing cohort of Imaqal followers a question via SMS around their thoughts and questions on COVID19. Over the course of a weekend, April 3-5 2020, AVF sent this message: "Dear Imaqal Listener, your voice is important for the response to COVID19. What are your thoughts on Coronavirus?" In reply to this and additional questions, AVF heard from over 7,747 Somalis from South Central and Puntland, 40% of whom were recently displaced. Within 4 days, a team of Somali-speaking researchers analysed over 15,000 SMS responses. Some highlights:

  • Respondents fall into 2 broad camps: Those invoking religious hope, practice, and guidance as the right way forward (38.7%), and those invoking community action aligned to expert/government advice with a "call for right practice" (34.1%).
  • The religion frame grows more salient with increasing age and splits evenly between (passive) fate/hope/trust in Allah and (active) devoutness, prayer, offering. Younger age groups (notably females) are more likely to advocate for following expert/government advice on right practices.
  • Over 1 in 10 respondents expressed thoughts on COVID-19 that involve rumour, stigma, or misinformation (12.2%). Over 75% of these respondents expressed negative stigma: hostility, anger, or resentment. A message denying coronavirus was over twice as likely to come from a male than a female.
  • Those recently displaced were significantly more likely to express such thoughts than those who were not. In Banadir (Mogadishu area), the recently displaced were twice as likely as host community respondents to express rumour, stigma, or misinformation.
  • Rumour, stigma or misinformation were also more likely from respondents from more insecure areas (due to the Al-Shabaab threat), such as Bay and Lower Juba, than from Banadir.

With this information (see also data shared in these webinar slides [PDF]), AVF and other organisations in Somalia are formulating a COVID-19 response that includes: working with and through religion as the dominant community framing of COVID-19, leveraging strong community solidarity around "right practice" (especially through youth - notably, female youth), and deploying empathetic and engaging content, using accessible, trusted, and meaningful communication channels.

Findings and recommendations (see also Key Points, below) have been shared with Somalia's inter-agency Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) task force and through 2 webinars with practitioners and policymakers (watch one of them, below).

Development Issues: 


Key Points: 

On March 16 2020, Somalia recorded its first case of coronavirus. By mid-April 2020, there were over 200 cases and mostly local transmission. AVF reports that health capacity is poor nationwide but especially in urban settings, with high numbers of IDPs living in cramped conditions and with pre-existing levels of risk to health and wellbeing. In such a context, prevention is crucial, and it requires mobilising collective and community action this is geared toward helping the most vulnerable. Here, RCCE are vital, but challenges such as socio-cultural and religious beliefs may distort the nature of the threat (e.g., beliefs among some that they are "immune" because they believe in God). Given longstanding upheaval and insecurity, there is also risk of spread of misinformation about the virus that can aggravate public anxieties. Furthermore, social distancing measures need to make sense amidst dense and precarious urban settings and in a highly communal society. During Ramadan, purist public health messaging around distancing is also likely to backfire.

Some recommendations from the research for a COVID-19 RCCE response in Somalia:

  • Understand what messaging sheikhs and other religious leaders are giving around COVID-19 as a crucial starting point - there is no blank slate for COVID-19 RCCE messaging. A "public health first" framing is misaligned with primary influences on people's lives.
  • Work with religion a trusted source of authority, guidance, and reassurance in times of crisis. If programming does not approach from this perspective - worse, if it is at loggerheads with this worldview - it is liable to fail or backfire.
  • Anticipate/address sensitivities around curtailing religious gatherings, especially during Ramadan.
  • Be aware that where authorities/agencies bypass the primacy of religious authority, others are liable to step in, instrumentalising hostility, anger, and resentment. (This is especially a concern with vulnerable populations in Bay, Lower Juba, and Banadir.)
  • Mitigate significant stigma - notably, hostility/anger towards COVID-19 and outsiders/non-believers/harbingers - being aware that rumour/stigma/misinformation is compounded amongst IDPs and conflict-affected communities.
  • Leverage frames that see women as the "backbone" of society and youth as the "pillar" of society to galvanise influencers for a collective response. (The strong "we" element in calling for right practice coheres with AVF's previous work: Somalis repeatedly emphasise community solidarity and mobilisation as solutions to humanitarian problems.)
  • Tackle rumour and misinformation around virus source and treatment - dengue, common cold and measles, traditional medicines - where it compounds negative practices, but this is not of the highest concern.
  • Make sense of the dynamics of the epidemic through Somali worldviews to drive action: More needs to be done to broadcast content that is framed within Somali religious and communal worldviews, using trusted voices and sources of authority, deploying engaging formats.

AVF stresses that perspectives on the ground regarding the impact of COVID-19 are fast-changing in Somalia, as elsewhere. Thus, sustained open channels to listen to community voices and understand feedback are vital for programming that anticipates risks, adapts, and is effective.

Partner Text: 

AVF, Cambridge University, and University of Nairobi researchers. Imaqal is a project of AVF and MediaINK, with support from the Somalia Stability Fund.

Contacts (user reference): 
See video

Email from Elena Georgalla to The Communication Initiative on May 12 2020; Somali Views in the Early Days of COVID-19: A Rapid Diagnostic, AVF; Promoting Greater Gender Equality and Social Inclusion through Media in Somalia (Somalia Stability Fund), AVF; Religion, Rumour and Right Practice: Somali Views in the Early Days of COVID-19, by Elena Georgalla and Dr. Sharath Srinivasan; and webinar slides [PDF] - all accessed on May 12 2020. Image credit: Stuart Price

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Author: Mwalimu George Ngwane, Head of the civil society organisation AFRICAphonie, May 22 2020 - One of the major problems of disease management and research, especially those that are sporadic, fatal and viral, is their lack of people-inclusive and empowerment strategies. Quite often, communities are basically beneficiaries of a hands-out process rather than a hands-on outcome. This is the case of the alarmist COVID-19 pandemic. Such a top-down approach has sometimes left the mitigating measures of COVID-19 only in the hands of a Santa Claus (government, public officials, and elites) club while disempowering the main target groups (local communities) from a domesticizing, indigenous and home-grown discourse.

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Jeremy Bowles
Horacio Larreguy
Shelley Liu
Publication Date
Friday, May 1, 2020

Center for International Development (CID) at Harvard University

"WhatsApp messages from a trusted source increase Zimbabwean citizens' knowledge and preventative behavior regarding COVID-19."

  <div class="field button"><a href="" target="_blank">Click here for the 28-page working paper in PDF format.</a></div>
Contacts (user reference): 

CID Faculty Working Paper No. 380 - sourced from CID at Harvard University website, May 13 2020. Image credit: SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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HIV/AIDS Communication