Uganda yet to get community messaging right

Sunday July 05 2020

A traveller waits for an intercity bus at the Namirembe Bus Park in Uganda's capital Kampala. PHOTO | AFP


Uganda is still struggling with public messaging as it battles Covid-19 community infections, nearly one month after announcing that the country had entered Phase Three of the pandemic, with rising cases throughout the month of June.

Experts told a virtual meeting between the Ministry of Health, World Health Organisation and Centres for Disease Control, that Uganda still had a chance to keep infections low if it enforces social distancing and the strict use of face masks.

Health experts warn that delays in getting the messaging right could lead to an exponential outbreak. The Health Ministry is yet to find a way to inform, persuade and motivate the public to follow measures. It has now tasked its communication consultants to create messages that address the risks and consciousness gaps identified in the post-lockdown period.

“Right now we are shooting ads that urge the public not to be complacent. The ads encourage regular hand washing, proper use of masks and social distancing. These will start airing soon,” said Ronex Kisembo Tendo, the chief executive of Precision Media, the firm handling Covid-19 messaging for the Ministry of Health.

“The ads emphasise that the fact that we haven’t registered any Covid-19 deaths doesn’t mean the disease doesn’t kill,” Mr Kisembo adds.



However, officials say concepts of these messages take time to put together, seek approvals for the mode of dissemination and wait for them to make impact, yet the community infections continue to grow.

For example, Precision Media seeks to brand 2,500 government vehicles, 2,000 matatu passengers vehicles and 500 buses with messages for mask use, hand wash and social distancing as the visual messaging for this phase of the pandemic, but this requires consent from the vehicle owners.

If the government fails to contain community infections, then the country will descend into stage four, which is a full blown epidemic.

The ministry is however also concerned that as the country eases out of lockdown, the public are less mindful of infection risks.

“We’ve entered a stage where we see clusters of infections, we have cases but we can’t trace the person that infected them. We have some places that have become hotspots. That’s worrying,” warned Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng in June.