From 28 April – 07 June 2021, the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) – in partnership with The Global Fund – held an online communications training for civil society organisations (CSOs) implementing Global Fund grants in Africa. The programme focused on improving advocacy and storytelling skills, with the aim of empowering participants to communicate effectively on human-rights related barriers to accessing HIV, tuberculosis and malaria services - particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This programme ran in parallel with a course for journalists based in Africa. In the final week of the training, the two groups were brought together online to help strengthen the relationship between media and civil society representatives. Below is a reflection from one of the participants following their completion of the programme:
By Ayo Ipinmoye - National Coordinator, ACOMIN, Nigeria
I have been involved in promoting and coordinating community participation in health for some time – both within and outside the shores of my country, Nigeria. Presently, I lead a network – called Civil Society in Malaria Control, Immunisation and Nutrition (ACOMIN) – of 800 CSOs working to prevent, treat and mitigate the impact of malaria. A major component of my work as National Coordinator and CEO is communicating with the member organisations, partners, donors, government agencies and other stakeholders. In this regard, clear and effective communication can make the difference between success and failure. Therefore, when I saw the opportunity to participate in this programme, I immediately applied and was glad to be accepted and have the chance to learn from true and tested veterans.
My desire to bolster my communication skills – and by extension, those of the civil society leaders I work with – in regards to human-rights related barriers to accessing health services, was borne out of the fact that malaria remains one of the most significant epidemics in Nigeria; 76% of the population live in all-year-round high transmission areas and the 2020 World Malaria Report found that Nigeria accounted for 27% of global cases and 23% of global deaths – both the highest in the world.
These stark statistics are clearly unacceptable to health practitioners, and efforts are being made by a plethora of government agencies, civil society organisations and other stakeholders to reverse the trend and improve Nigeria’s health indices. When poor health indices are seen alongside deep-rooted poverty and surging inflation, as well as widespread security concerns, the plight of Nigerian communities with regards to health is better imagined than witnessed. And when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, issues including a shortage of medical professionals, insufficient supplies of essential medicines and a lack of confidence throughout communities in the health care sector only became worse.
Many communities began to stigmatise healthcare centres as spreaders of COVID-19 infection, and as a result, community members were discouraged from accessing services. There was also widespread misinformation that conflated malaria with COVID-19; so many people who were infected with the former demurred from accessing treatment at the centres, for fear of being forced into isolation. In addition, conspiracy theories that denied the existence of COVID-19 were circulating, alongside claims that the disease is merely a means of enriching a few at the expense of the majority.
These intersecting issues fortified pre-existing barriers to health services and highlighted the critical need for accurate and trusted information. As such, I was propelled to take part in the communications training.
The six-week programme had an effective mix of teaching, group work and interactive learning. The trainers were excellent communicators and they had the unique ability to pass on knowledge in humorous and joy-filled ways. With their coaching, we learnt about a wide range of topics, such as leveraging the power of communication to effect change, responding to challenging questions and hostile audiences, social media promotion, the importance of messaging development and mobile journalism. The sessions on social media were very valuable, and they helped to open my eyes to the opportunities being missed by myself and the civil society organisations I provide leadership for.
The training has led me to make changes within our organisation, and we are now working to give our Communications team the tools they need to improve our ability to share and receive information from the members within our network and bolster our communications with partners, donors and stakeholders.
Another cherished experience was connecting, working and learning with colleagues from other health constituencies, countries and contexts. The cross-fertilisation of ideas propelled me to think deeper and these learnings are already improving our work in Nigeria. We are currently in the process of producing a national campaign on malaria elimination, which we hope will mobilise communities to get involved and take ownership of their health outcomes. Already the lessons learnt are playing a big role in this process and I am excited to see what the impact will be.