UNICEF warns against disregarding covid-19 protocols

Feb 2, 2021, 7:14 PM

UNICEF has cautioned that too many people in The Gambia are disregarding COVID-19 prevention and control measures, especially with regards to the use of face masks, posing a major hindrance to the country’s efforts to control the spread of the virus, especially now that cases are rising and new variants have been confirmed. The caution comes as a recent U-Report poll showed that most young people believe that “COVID-19 is over in The Gambia” and that fewer people were adhering to COVID-19 safety measures. The poll was rolled out in December 2020.

U-Report is an SMS based platform developed and used by UNICEF and partners to gauge people’s views and attitudes towards issues happening in their communities. More than 12,000 people are registered on the platform in The Gambia.  The December poll measured people’s perceptions of and behaviours towards COVID-19, the second such poll in less than five months.  More than 5,000 U-Reporters of different age groups participated in both polls.

In the two polls that UNICEF rolled out in August and December, U-Reporters were asked their views on COVID-19 and attitude towards prevention measures, including wearing of face mask, handwashing and social distancing.  Amongst the principal results:

COVID-19 denial is slightly on the rise, from 12 per cent in August to 13 per cent in December.

Whilst the possession of face masks remains at 88 per cent, its regular use has sharply gone down from 80 per cent in August to 45 per cent in December.

Almost half of non-regular users of face masks (49%) say they choose not to because masks are “uncomfortable”, and 20 per cent say it is because the pandemic is over.

Most of the respondents in the second poll, 44 per cent, believe that COVID-19 prevention measures are not respected because the virus is “over in The Gambia”.

Whilst more people (54%) were prepared to take voluntary COVID-19 tests, most of those who would not want to take the test said so because they would not trust the test results.

“The feedback generated in the U-Report polls is a strong reminder that it is too early and that the stakes are too high to let our guard down,” said Gordon Jonathan Lewis, UNICEF The Gambia Representative. “We have once again been reminded that we are not only battling a virus but also a wave of misinformation that is threatening our very efforts to control the pandemic. The widespread notion that COVID-19 is over and people’s low confidence in COVID-19 test results show the severity of a pandemic and an infodemic that is currently confronting the country.”

To control the spread of the virus, UNICEF is calling for stronger communication efforts to raise public awareness on COVID-19, a more rigorous testing and contact tracing approach, protection of health care workers, teachers and the vulnerable, and the enforcement of COVID-19 regulations including mandatory wearing of face masks in public places.