DO YOU SPEAK ABOUT COVID-19?

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization announced that COVID‐19 was characterized as a pandemic—a global first for coronavirus. 

The scale and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly risen to the level of a public health threat that could justify restrictions on certain rights, such as those that result from the imposition of quarantine or isolation which limit freedom of movement.

As dangerous as the virus is, the WHO communicated ways to prevent the spread and flatten the curve. However, millions of marginalized people lack basic information about how to keep themselves and their communities safe and well. Many messages are transmitted in languages that are not spoken by some people. For example, there is very little use of African languages in communicating about COVID-19. Moreover, the low levels of literacy and inaccessibility and of information technology platforms are a hindrance.  Furthermore, some don’t know what to do if infected and why to do it. As a consequence, they might not be able to make informed decisions about how to behave. This lack of knowledge leads to the spread of the corona virus.

The Constitution of Kenya  brought a more liberal approach and provides for the right of access to information under Article 35. Every citizen has the right to access information held by the State and held by another person and required for the exercise or protection of another right. The creative sector can support access to information by using various communication approaches.

Covid-19 needs to be better understood by all people so that can make informed decisions. Information about COVID-19 ought to be transmitted in simple and easily accessible formats. African countries need to provide continuous education and awareness to their populations on the need to keep physical distancing, washing hands with sanitizers or soap frequently, and wearing masks.

We recognize that proficiency in world languages is essential tool for twenty-first-century citizens who increasingly need to communicate with the rest of the world. However, these languages are not spoken across the board. Marginalized communities in Africa, the Pacific Islands and South America marginalized – like all – have a right to clear, accurate, and accessible information about the disease and response efforts. They need information in a language and format they understand. It must also be presented in a way that is relevant to them, and available in a channel they can access and trust.

Women, older people, and people with disabilities in particular often have fewer educational opportunities and are less likely to speak or read a second language. Language barriers definitely leave these groups out of the loop during campaigns about the pandemic.

A new initiative from medical students and physicians at Harvard Medical School aims to help members of these communities by translating fact-based Covid-19 information. The initiative, known as the Covid-19 Health Literacy Project, has already translated essential Covid-19 information about prevention and possible treatment options, among other issues, in over 35 languages, including Navajo, Oromo and Kiswahili.

Where infection control limits face-to-face communication, social media, SMS services, call centers, television, and radio will be essential channels. Yet these can risk exacerbating inequalities and feelings of exclusion for some marginalized groups. Women, older people, people with disabilities, and less educated people are less likely to have access to mobile phones and the internet due to cost, connectivity and other factors.

The format in which information is presented affects how well it is understood. While even those who cannot read value written text, many people find pictorial, audio, and video content easier to understand. This role is well executed by the creative sector. They can also play a vital role in debunking misinformation, fake news, misconceptions and myths. Through storytelling, poetry, music, drama, film, visual art and other formats the sector can reduce COVID-19 related stigma and encourage people to get tested.  

 During pandemics, people look for inspiration from different places. Art can be a vital source of inspiration because art it is a universal language which informs, educates and entertains easily. Unlike other language which require a special blend of motivational and cognitive strategies which are impossible during a world emergency, art forms can be the channel for global and local communication.

Therefore, creative practitioners ought to be supported in order to develop content in the widest possible range of local languages, including formats suitable for the most vulnerable individuals 

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