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    Importance Of IEC To Deter COVID-19 Pandemic

    Information, Education and Communication (IEC) have a crucial role in making a success of preventive and precautionary measures to lower the risk of exposure to the COVID-19. IEC is a vast concept comprising of various approaches and methodologies. The main concept and approaches lie on the establishment of positive behaviour change by developing people mindset & attitude.

    It is worthwhile to mention here that, people still not been able to understand the significance of lockdown or physical distancing; as we have been witnessing how people disobeying the authorities’ safety guidelines on lockdown and social distancing in their day-to-day life.

    However, the lockdown 2.0 was withdrawn selectively from April 20, 2020, in some areas across the country including Assam, where COVID-19 spread is controlled to restart the economic activity.

    In those areas, the main key behaviour change needs to be developed among people is to maintain social distancing, which is painstaking by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) & World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the imperative solutions to stop the exponential spread of COVID-19 among people.

    To inculcate the social distancing behaviour, it is now utmost important to trigger Behavior Change Communication (BCC) through IEC so that people should realize the advantages of social distancing to dilute the virus chain.

    Although, both the state and central government has been initiating awareness and communication drive in guidance of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and for which 21-day lockdown is considered as helpful in lowering positive cases but awareness on COVID-19 still needs to gain further impetus to penetrate among rural and illiterate section of the population.

    It may be mentioned here that, India is home to 313 million illiterate people and of which 59 per cent are women, so the need of the hour is to frame a community-led ‘Advocacy & Communication’ strategy on different criteria of Social and Behavioral Change Communication (SBCC), which is considered a vital catalyst of IEC to reach out that populace by spreading awareness on topics such as the importance of lockdown, proper handwashing procedure, use of face mask in public places, sanitation, quarantine, isolation, social distancing, covering mouth with a cloth when sneezing and coughing, immunity-boosting measures for self-care etc.

    Another foremost step to transform people behaviour to follow guidance on social distance measures is to initiate a 360-degree approach chiefly through Inter-Personal Communication (IPC), the main component of IEC tool. IPC may be done through social change agents like teachers, local leaders, youths, women Self Help Groups etc. If people identify the link between – lockdown, practising social distancing, wearing a mask in public places, and proper hand-wash and -COVID-19, then each individual will act as a torchbearer to take the message to others. IPC will significantly contribute to mobilizing people. Moreover, it is also crucial to dispel fake news on the virus that causes panic among masses through IPC approaches.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with UNICEF & International Federation of Red Cross has developed a -Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) action plan guidance on COVID-19 preparedness and response, where they have recommended to focusing on behaviour change and actions to support public health intervention.

    The action plan also suggested identifying key target audience & influencer, which includes local leaders, women, youth groups, religious & elders’ group, NGOs, people who have real-life experience with COVID-19 to motivate people with a sustainable goal to ensure ownership among community people to fight against the COVID-19.

    As of now in India, the lockdown is considered as one of the unprecedented steps to stop the virus infection, which is now extended to May 3, 2020, with different strategies and conditions, but as the time passes, the government will bound to opt for other alternatives.

    The industry and economic experts claimed that the 21-days lockdown period cost the country’s Rs 7-8 crore. Echoing the same, the International Labour Organization (ILO) in its report titled- ‘ILO Monitor 2nd edition: Covid-19 and the world of work’ published on April 10, 2020 mentioned that, more than 400 million people in India will counter with poverty and unemployment due to huge losses in working hours & earnings.  

    Therefore, it may be noted that, in coming days, the government may need to take a final call on complete relaxation of lockdown by ensuring each and every citizen of the country will maintain social distancing, and take care of sanitation & hygiene methods as required to deter COVID-19 completely and to ensure such commitments, IEC has a pivotal role to play.  

    The researchers from University of Hong Kong in its renowned journal ‘The Lancet’ claimed that, till availability of vaccination of COVID-19, there is a possibility of the second wave of COVID-19 infection in those countries that went through stage -4 in the first wave of infection.

    The journal also revealed that, if vaccine is found in next few weeks then also after completion of successful human testing, it will take at least 18 months to make available in public health service. On the other hand, as per the WHO, as many as 62 attempts are being carried by Drug companies & Universities across the world including six companies from India namely Zydus Candila, Serum Institute, Biological E, Bharat Biotech, Indian Immunologicals & Mynvax to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

    Taking a note into all these facts, the most significant take away is to focus on the preventive approach until a vaccine is found. Therefore, it is crucial to initiate a massive drive-through IEC by organizing village and ward level campaign for mobilizing people on do’s and don’t to foil the virus to escalate further. If we do not adopt proper safety measures now, then it will be out of our hand as infected tally crosses five-digit figure in India.

    As of now, India is doing tremendously good in terms of active positive cases tally, which is comparatively better than countries like America, Spain, Italy, China, France etc. Therefore, it is imperative to create more awareness on preventative measures to keep positive infection low by organizing Focus Group Discussion (FGD) – a vibrant tool of IEC, in community and ward level, more frequently in identified COVID-19 hotspot districts to find out people perceptions & questions on novel coronavirus. Such activity will help to facilitate the masses on a better understanding of COVID-19 by spreading key messages.

    In addition, proper communication also requires to be disseminated to disperse stigmas arising from various fronts. Social stigma may develop in many ways such as- stigma and discrimination can surface when a COVID-19 patient is released from hospital after found negative and not considered him/her a risk to spread the virus,  then he/she may face social rebuff, refutation of social benefits, physical hostility etc.

    To counter such kind of probable situation, it is necessary to spread positive holistic information in and around affected areas, where positive cases are being reported. The main communiqué needs to be spread to counter such kind of stigmas is to share accurate information about how the virus spread.

    Meanwhile, the Centre is monitoring the lockdown situation pan India closely through ‘Aarogya Setu’ app, along with providing accurate information on various aspects of the COVID-19. Through this app, the Centre also preparing strategies on bunch of social-distancing measures that needs to be implemented when the lockdown is strategically revoked from the country.

    It may be mentioned here that, to disseminate various social distancing measures to be carried out in different circumstance in coming days, handful number of communication and awareness campaign needs to be developed. Although the challenges lie on to change the habits and mindset, it will be possible by rendering an extra effort through meticulous IEC activities via community-led and people-centred approach.

    Hence, to keep the COVID-19 at bay, it is paramount important to spread messages like- ‘Please mind the gap’.      

    The views expressed by the author are personal and may not in any way represent those of TIME8.

    Photo credit: health.harvard.edu

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