Basse – Currently, in The Gambia, there are 23 confirmed cases, 1 death, 10 recovered patients and 6 others at the treatment centers. The President of the Republic made a public declaration on COVID 19 on March 17th, 2020 to suspend all educational classes and weekly markets, and advised all to keep social distance, regularly wash hands and follow all other preventive measures as directed by WHO and the Ministry of health. The country is under state of emergency.

As an organization that encourages communities to take the lead in determining their own visions of health and well-being, I knew early on our Tostan Gambia team had to take the lead in communicating life saving information effectively. Before this pronouncement was made, Tostan Gambia visited the regional health directorate and asked for preventive methods. Based on the advice given, we developed a three month emergency plan to continue the sensitization and supporting resilience of 203 partner communities in the Upper River Region (URR).

We immediately informed all Supervisors and Facilitators to suspend class sessions, and to work directly with communities to start sensitizing Community Management Committees (CMCs) and Community Empowerment Program (CEP) participants about COVID-19 and its preventive methods, using information from the Kobi module on health and hygiene from the CEP as a model. Our primary method of dissemination have been interactive radio programs broadcast in three languages (Mandika, Pulaar, and Sarahuleh) twice a week. This yielded momentum, as community members developed their own preventative measures and adapted their social norms according to the information. We have seen communities increase hand washing, social distancing where possible, and avoid gatherings. CMCs are also distributing supplies like soap and bleach to the households in their villages.

Tostan Gambia also created a WhatsApp group with Supervisors, Facilitators, CMCs, religious leaders and CEP participants. This forum is used purposely to share information on COVID-19, emphasizing the Tostan approach to promoting hygiene and health practices to combat the pandemic. The forum has currently more than 120 members from partner communities across URR and is a space to ask questions on prevention matters they do not understand, and to hear different perspectives on information. It is an opportunity for participants to sensitize each other and share information from the group in their own social networks. We also encourage community members to regularly follow national radio and television programs for more up to date information. 

Continued collaboration with national and local authorities at this time is crucial. URR, where we are based, is the first region to institute a Regional Emergency Response Committee, chaired by the Governor and with Tostan as a key founding member. We have conducted a series of meetings to shed light on the strategies of information dissemination to the general public, with Tostan’s approach being particularly well received by committee members.

Supervisor giving detergents to CMCs: Mixing Water and detergents at Sare Sandigi: Bucket stationed at Tostan Office: Village chief of Sare Gubu washing hands