To ensure that the war on the pandemic is successful, there is an urgent need to increase awareness in the rural areas, writes Adewale Kupoluyi

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) worldwide, a series of efforts have been made to educate, inform, and sensitise everyone on nature, preventive, and developments as they unfold. The use of traditional and social media has been useful in the last few weeks in taming the novel virus that has struck mankind like the thunder. The pandemic has caught everybody and health institutions unaware to the extent that nobody can give specific assurance or antidote on how to curtail the virus, whose real origin is controversial. COVID-19 remains a nightmare that respects no race, tribe, religion, status, gender, or age.

The severity of the problem at hand continues to drive the respective governments, international and local health institutions to update all on the dos and don’ts on the pandemic. There is the likelihood for the elites to think that there is an information overload in the social, print, and electronic media. The contrary appears to be the case regarding the people living in villages and rural communities. There is hardly anything they enjoy from the state in terms of social security and basic amenities. They are usually on their own. No regular electricity supply, bad roads everywhere, no potable water, and poor healthcare. For them to charge their mobile phones, they would have to congregate at a local shop and pay.

The cable channel is completely unaffordable and sheer luxury for them while access to newspapers, electronic and social media is also a mirage. According to the United States of America’s Human Rights Watch, Nigeria’s informal sector include more than 80 percent of a wide range of occupations from street traders, taxi drivers, farmers, tradesmen, artisans, food vendors, barbers, and hairdressers. To ascertain the level of awareness of the rural populace on COVID-19, an interview was conducted through the telephone on some respondents that were randomly selected in some states across the geo-political zones of Nigeria. The respondents comprise uneducated persons living in cities, villages, and rural communities.

Findings showed that almost all the respondents gave similar responses suggesting that they were ill-informed on the pandemic. For instance, they do not know the correct name of the disease. Various names were given such as ‘corovirus’, ‘corolla virus’, ‘coroba vilus’, and ‘cofid virus’, among others. The implication of this is that they are either completely ignorant or have a faint idea of the deadly disease. The respondents ascribed the disease to only the rich and affluent in society. They held the belief that the sin of man was responsible for the pandemic and were also of the opinion that they can never be afflicted by the virus because they are poor. The consequence of the wrong perception among our rural dwellers and uneducated citizenry makes them continue to live their normal lives as if nothing worrisome is happening by violating social distancing, maintaining low personal hygiene, and failing to disclose strange health conditions to relevant authorities.

They are also angry and showing apathy that relief items and palliatives distributed mainly in the towns and cities are not sent to them due to their perceived discrimination and corruption in the management of the commodities. With this kind of mindset and disposition by a critical segment of the Nigerian populace, there is an urgent need to re-strategise how to reach out to these people immediately, educate them appropriately, and cater for their needs. Failure to do so could cause monumental disasters and rubbish the success story recorded by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Federal Ministry of Health, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, and other stakeholders across the country.

This reach-out call became imperative considering the current community infection stage of the coronavirus in the nation because if the rural communities are not well protected, there is likely to be an explosion and more casualties, as most of the villagers are ill-informed and have no access to good medical facilities. This makes the rural dwellers and community-based residents vulnerable to the virus. Ordinarily, information easily gets to the grassroots through churches, mosques, market/trader groups, and residents associations. Unfortunately, the lockdown directives in the states have made it almost impossible for the people to congregate and obtain life-saving updates at this period.

This vacuum and communication gap has been largely responsible for why a lot of people are ill-informed about the viral disease in the country. To ensure that the war on the pandemic is successful, there is an urgent need to focus on implementing programmes that can increase awareness among the villagers. These would entail meeting with the traditional rulers to deploy the use of town criers and street-to-street campaigns using the mobile public address system without staying together in a place. Those communicating the message should be adequately equipped with key information, be fluent in local/native languages, and familiar with the culture of the people. In carrying out this task, there should be room for feedback on how the communication channel can be opened and sustained with the possibility of groundbreaking and the discovery of an effective local treatment for coronavirus disease in Nigeria.

This time around, consumables, protective kits, sanitisers, and hand-washing facilities should be provided for the rural people free of charge. It is rather unfortunate that the National Orientation Agency (NOA) appears not active enough in enlightening the rural populace on COVID-19. It should be appreciated that about 70 percent of Nigeria’s population lives in rural areas and are responsible for about 75 per cent of the country’s food production. During this pandemic when there is hunger in the land, we should be concerned about the need for farmers to safely plant and harvest in the rainy season to ensure adequate food supply and transportation from rural production areas to industrial processing zones and consumption locations.

This is a clarion call on individuals and corporate donors to accord priority to the local communities by directly touching their lives. Family heads should ensure that health disseminated permeates their entire household. With the support of the local councils, it is not too late to make a redress by reaching out to the rural dwellers, villagers, and uneducated fellow citizens living in slums and rural cities on the importance of constant hand washing, physical distancing, wearing of face masks in public, avoidance of non-essential movement, avoidance of large gatherings and getting tested. The fight against COVID-19 should not be one-sided; it should be all-embracing, comprehensive, and total.

Kupoluyi wrote from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta