Risk Communication and Community Engagement is an essential element of any medical outbreak response. If a highly infectious disease such as COVID-19 is spreading rapidly amongst a community, it’s essential that people understand how to protect themselves and what they should do if they fall sick. However as we’ve witnessed all over the world – getting these messages across isn’t quite as straight forward as it sounds.
We asked Diana Maddah, UK-Med’s Risk Communications and Community Engagement specialist in Lebanon to tell us more:
What is Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE)?
‘Risk Communication and Community Engagement is a crucial science focused on better understanding a community and its needs.
It’s a strategy to connect with different stakeholders using a multitude of channels to enhance the well-being of a community.
Why is it important?
Now, nothing is based on a top-down approach. We need to hear the voices of those who are voiceless, to give the lay people the platform to express, assess, and engage in their own words.
Any message or communications plan cannot be considered appropriate if we do not get input from the people we are trying to communicate with. A community should be engaged in the decision-making processes, especially if they are vulnerable.
What are the challenges?
It’s essential to understand a communities’ language and context.
In this kind of work, there is a high level of sensitivity. A RCCE team should carry out community mapping to better understand everyone’s perspective, to identify the influencers and match them with the beneficiaries.
It’s like wearing different hats, you have to wear the right hat with the right person.
The language used with political figures is not the same used to communicate and coordinate with religious leaders or with lay people. You always need to watch your language carefully and build trust accordingly.
Different strategies you are using in Lebanon?
I usually start work by researching the identified region/area, the size of population, their background, their average level of education, the economic situation in the region, their access to health care systems and other facilities such as schools and colleges.
I identify the key leaders and I engage with them from day one. The community members and the key-leaders (head of municipality, religious figures, active NGOs, governmental entities) know that I am here to help and support.
However, I always remind all the stakeholders that this support will not be fruitful if it doesn’t include building capacity.
People need to be able to lead and sustain the impact of any project.
For example, in the Saida Region, Lebanon, I am working hard to push the hospital management team to play a key role in combating COVID-19 in the Saida community by hosting a public meeting that will include all the stakeholders in the community. It will be a great opportunity to join the dots and reconnect people.
As we are also dealing with refugees, I worked on strengthening the connection between the hospital and UNICEF and other international organisations that are trustworthy in the camp.
We trained community-based organizations (CBOs) working in the camp to get the skills and the information they need to raise awareness of the risks of COVID-19 and how the community can protect themselves.
These CBOs will deliver the materials to the refugees while conducting their regular training of trainer activities in the camp. The CBOs will not be directly trained by me, the UK-EMT RCCE person, instead a trained staff member from the hospital will deliver the sessions.
Using this strategy, we enhance the engagement between the hospital and refugees. We build the capacity of the CBOs to deliver the awareness training themselves. We maintain the sustainability of our communications plan and we guarantee reaching a higher number of beneficiaries.’
What are the essential elements for RCCE to work well?
I believe we should work on the following principles for success:
- Listen as much as you can
- Build trust
- Speak the community’s language
- Be innovative and creative in planning
- Always assess your work!