Communication is key in a pandemic….

Memuna Forna: 27 March 2020:

In a pandemic, communication is key. But then, I would say that – wouldn’t I? It’s my job. As recently as last week, while the rest of the world was visibly reeling under the Covid-19 pandemic, I spoke to members of the Sierra Leonean business community who were convinced that the virus’s economic impact, if not the virus itself – were going to pass Sierra Leone by. I hope they’ve now been persuaded otherwise.

The Guardian newspaper has described the Coronavirus pandemic as delivering “the fastest, deepest economic shock in history,” and as Andrew Keili wrote in his recent column, “the economic consequences of this new war- whether or not the virus breaches our shores are bound to be with us for quite a while – after all we live in a global economy.”

The online one-stop hub of coronavirus-related information that we at Insight Magazine are putting together for the Sierra Leonean business community can’t possibly prevent what is coming, but it can certainly help businesses prepare and manage both practically and to some extent financially.

Frustratingly and rather worrying, considering that the country is surrounded on both sides now by the virus, and our Government is putting policies and procedures in place, there is very little Sierra Leone specific information on Coronavirus publicly and easily available.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) believes that effective communications has become as essential to outbreak control as epidemiological training and laboratory analysis.

Yet, not one of our key MDAs had information on their Covid-19 response on their websites – not the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, or the Ministry of Information and Communication.

The website of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation which should be leading on information provision, has not been updated since the last government. In fact, it has information on how to prevent Ebola, but none on how to prevent Coronavirus.

The State House Website, as always was the exception – with both the President’s recent speeches available. Fortunately, these broadly cover the substance of Sierra Leone’s coronavirus response.

Social media should not be a substitute for the official websites, however if I search Facebook or dip into WhatsApp forums, I may find more information on the rules regarding the quarantine for incoming passengers; whether the airport lockdown includes cargo flights; what the situation is at the ports; what the protocol at the border is; whether markets can or cannot open, etc, etc.

But I won’t know if what I’m reading is the most up-to-date information, or whether it is actually real or fake. To that latter point, a press release purportedly from the Ministry of Tourism was doing the rounds earlier this week. (Photo: Memuna Forna).

We are yet to record a case of Coronavirus but we are already into the territory of misinformation, disinformation and fake news.

We could be standing on the threshold of a long and difficult period. Like everyone, I hope we are not. It is commendable that the Government has taken such a strong approach to prevention.

As part of this response, the Government should already have in place a communications strategy which ensures access to timely and accurate information, if trust and credibility are to be built and sustained. Leave it too long and there will be a vacuum ready to be filled with fake news.

Managing an epidemic must be one of the most difficult things any leader has to do. Getting the communications strategy right from the outset will make our response to Covid-19 that much more likely to succeed.

About the author

Memuna Forna is the proprietor and publisher of the Insight magazine.
www.insight.sl

4 Comments

  1. I personally believe that Sierra Leone has been blessed with credible Communication Networks like the Sierra Leone Telegraph, the AYV TV Empire and Radio Democracy to name but few because of the wonderful job they are doing in not only informing the world with the facts but also holding our past and current governments, our people and forumites accountable . I hope and pray that the Almighty will continue to guide and protect all of the proprietors and workers from this deadly disease.

    In my personal opinion, I think the major problem that Sierra Leone is facing at the moment is the destructive propaganda machine of the ALAKI PEOPLE’S CONGRESS (APC) PARTY which is now out of control based on the fact that someone with a critical health condition just lost her life a week ago because of the negative and destructive messages they are spreading on social media across the world.

    The problem is that they keep naming those APC culprits which unfortunately dignifies them and their actions, and in their destructive minds they now believe that they are a powerful force in determining the future of our country. These AYAMPIES unfortunately succeeded after destroying our economy by STEALING our citizens money for 10 years, brainwashed our citizens with the narrative of “THE GRON DRY” – only few months after losing the 2018 presidential election. And after stealing most of the money that was meant for educating our youths, our level of illiteracy in the country is so high that they are unable to determine the facts from propaganda.

    I hope and pray that the New Direction Government will use the State Of Emergency within this 12 months to crackdown on fake news and indiscipline in our country by proactively putting out the credible facts in order to protect and save the lives of our citizens..May the Almighty continue to bless our New Direction Government with more wisdom and understanding to conquer the destructive propaganda machine of the APC party. Amen and Ameen.

  2. Indeed,effective Communication always plays an integral part in the process that leads to the successful completion of any undertaking, and endeavor. When will our inept leaders become free from the shackles and chains of indifference and gross negligence?They are building websites they cannot sustain,buying new expensive, luxury cars they are unwilling to maintain, and building Victorian mansions that collapse and crumble over the years into frightful ramshackle eyesores, desperately in need of mending, and renovation. (lol)

    This inept,SLPP government is the worst that has ever ruled Sierra Leone.They are an arrogant, good for nothing bunch,who have mastered the art of stupidly putting the cart before the horse that pulls it. Ask them to their faces how many efficient, hygienic facilities they have set up in case of an outbreak,and they will tell you a bunch of lies; And who says they are not communicating effectively to our people? Well, I beg to differ – they are,but with ceaseless deceits,lies,and falsehoods.

    The inadequate SLPP has been known to take irresponsible, foolhardy chances;Instead of making robust preparations,they are indulging their childish mindsets in wishful thinking,hoping that the Coronavirus,will become a frightening storm that wrecks havoc everywhere else,but not in Sierra Leone. Who would’ve thought,or even guessed that this lackadaisical government was capable of doing the unthinkable – putting lives at risks,quarantining its own citizens, and visitors from distant lands,in the most filthy,rat infested,hotels,your eyes have ever seen? Well, to be sincere,they are great communicators, but strangely, it is with nothing but a series of stupefying, pathetic, deplorable, repulsive lies, and utterances. (lol) Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

  3. Thank you Memuna for your article. Indeed, excellent communication is the number one indicator of success dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude. Every citizen needs to be adequately informed about what to expect and their role as responsible partners to solve the problem. Lack of official communication is responsible for the irresponsible infiltration of Fake News floating around social media. Suffice it to say that this COVID-19 is not the only incident that has not been adequately communicated by the authorities. Several national dramatic events that needed the immediate intervention and information by authorities were unfortunately not addressed at all. In order to adequately and successfully communicate essential information to the public, I strongly believe there is the need for a government Public Information Officer.

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