COVID-19: NOA raises alarm over community spread, calls for  behavioral change

By Chimezie Godfrey

The National Orientation Agency (NOA) has raised alarm over the rapid spread of the Coronavirus disease to the communities due to careless attitude of Nigerians and their failure to comply with the safety  guidelines by the government.

The Director General, NOA, Dr Garba Abari made the assertion on Thursday in Abuja while addressing Newsmen on the Agencys’  efforts on sensitization interventions against COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.

“Recall that we had presented in the past months, two reports of our observations on the sensitization activities of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) as part of the efforts to combat the global scourge of Corona Virus, otherwise called Covid-19 in Nigeria.  

“Those two reports detailed the initial attitude of Nigerians to the effort of government and indeed, other stakeholders to stop the spread of the disease. 

“Even as the ease of lockdown continued, we noted the rapicspread of the disease to our communities because of the careless atitude of many Nigerians and inability to observe the safety protocol established by both the government and health sector experts. 

“Without doubt those observations are the basis for our subsequent activities and interventions,” he said.

According to him, NOA has had five sensitization interventions since the pandemic entered the community transmission éra. 

“The first intervention was carriecout under the NOA/PLAC partnership which took place in 19 states. 

“The second aspect of the intervention which covered the remaining 18 states and the FCT was undertaken solely by the NOA,” he said.

Dr Abari said that during the exercise they observed a widespread knowledge of the disease but noted the problems ofadapting required behavior change action which the whole campaign seeks to bring about. 

“For instance, we observed that there are a number of conspiracy theories around the disease and its spread; that some mythsand disbelief still rule the perception of this disease, among other things.

“Late June, we undertook the third intervention which focused on the local governement areas of the 9 most affected states. 

“These states include Bauchi, Borno, Edo, FCT, Jigawa, Katsina, Kano, Lagos and Ogun. 

“In these states, 20 LGAs were specifically concentrated on because of the prevalence of these scourge in those areas. 

“Subsequently, following oumwork, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) revised the list asking us to move to four other states including Lagos, Rivers, Bayelsa and Ogun and elevent LGAs therein where the disease appear to have spread more. 

“In this phase, we believed that providing enough information about the disease, method of spread and how to stop the spread will help communities so affected totake the required precaution and thereby cut down on the rate of infections in these communities,” he said.

The NOA Director General stressed that communicating the right messages is key to reducing infection in the communities.

He said that the fourth intervention was devoted to advocacy sensitization to communityinfluencers including Traditional rulers and Religous Leaders which is still on going. 

“We have fully covered 26 states while reports of the remining 10states are on the way. The ideas behind this approach is to bring home the message through those who are influential in communities.

“The latest activty of the Agency at the community level is the 774 LGsensitization. 

“This is the most widespread part of the campaign whichtargets schools, markets, and places of worship. 

“Though markets andplaces of worship have been partially opened, we continue to emphasis the precautionary measures including the need to put in place hand sanitizers and the use of hand washing conveniences around these places. 

“We also emphasise the need to evolve group solution to non adherence of the protocols especially in organised locations. 

“For instance,we continue to askmarket associations to ensure that nobody enters the market whether as buyer or seller without facemasks, while crowd centres in the markets are not allowed to open. 

“In the places of worship, we continue to preachcompliance of the safety protocols and the prescribed duration for worship inorder to reduce contact,” he explained.

Abari who noted that worship places observed the guidelines to large extent, called on regious ro However, we still call on the leaders to sanction the few among them that have not yet embracedthe safety guidelines jointly agreed on between government and religous organisations.

With regard to schools, he said that the little opening meant for theexiting classes to write their exams will help management of schools toadopt practices that will lead to better hygeine and greater safety in the schools. 

According to him, as part of the  campaign, NOA officials are giving out freely the guideline issued by the NCDC along with the relevant educational authorities so that managemnt of schools will know what to do. 

“Community Mobilisation Officers (COMOS) have also been directed to work along with health officials under the state response teams,  inspect schools facilities toensure that on no account should our children be exposed to the risk of infection due to negligence.

 “Information, Educational and communication (IEC) material are to be distributed to schools as part of the campaign. 

“We encourage schools to set up health vanguards among students to monitor compliance with protocols within the school premises,” he stressed.

Abari pointed out that the ultimate goal of the sensitization effort is to bring to minimum the rateof spread of the disease in the country. We believe that this can beachieved only with the support of all Nigerians.

He further said that during the COVID-19 sensitization and engagement with communities across the country and the FCT, they observed that there was a total collapse on compliance with the curfew, a disbelief in the existence of the disease, and non-compliance with the use of facemasks among others.

He stressed that the gradual easing of the lockdown is not the end of Coronavirus, and therefore urged Nigerians to adhere to the PTF guidelines and join in the fight against the spread of the virus.