A possible, brilliant partnership against the virus, stigmatization

BY: Ajoa Yeboa-Afari

I guess I’m not the only person who checks the COVID-19 statistics in the media with some trepidation, dreading to know and yet needing to know, the latest figures.

And also I suppose I’m not the only one who scrutinizes images in the media to see if people are keeping to the social distancing requirement at public places and events, and whether they’re wearing masks; or wearing them properly.  

On the whole what is observed is not very reassuring. It appears that either many people, haven’t understood the magnitude of the virus threat or, too many have an unfortunate ‘it-can’t-happen-to-me’ attitude. This is disturbing, to say the least.

So what is to be done? How can public education about the aggressive coronavirus disease, COVID-19 pandemic, be carried out so that everybody in Ghana understands what is at stake, our very lives?

Well, a Radio Ghana report from the Bono Region, by the inimitable John Sam-Arthur, provides an answer from the Centre for National Culture (CNC) in Sunyani: local language dramatic performances.

Can drama achieve the tremendously urgent objective?
Yes, it’s possible! That is the view of the Bono Regional office of the CNC.  

The CNC Bono Region believes that their newly launched strategy of propagating a COVID-19 education and entertainment package at the doorstep of communities in the region can achieve the desired results.   

The package includes drum language and choral music; with drama in the local language as its centrepiece.

As reported by Sam-Arthur last Friday, June 5, the CNC Sunyani package aims to promote COVID-19 safety, as well as tackle stigmatization. Sponsored by the Regional Coordinating Council, it aims to go to the rural communities to educate people about the pandemic.

The CNC Regional Director Helen Akanbon explained: “Some people don’t (even) have access to radio. When we go to the communities, we will make a big impact. After the drama, people will ask questions and we will have the health personnel around to address those issues.”

For her part, the Regional Health Promotion Officer, Ms Ama Gyankumah Asirifi agrees that: “it’s going to make a big impact – especially as it’s in the local language.” People will remember and follow the preventive measures announced by the President, she added.

However, the Centre is handicapped, the Director said. They urgently need funding and other support. Ms Akanbon is, therefore, appealing for assistance, notably with transport, from the local assemblies, in order to be able to reach the rural areas with the package.

I was quite excited when I heard the Radio Ghana report. It is known that people relate extremely well to local language drama, and thus using that as a vehicle to carry the COVID-19 messages could achieve good results.

People of a certain age remember with nostalgia the days when concert party troupes would tour towns and villages with drama in local languages to highlight social and educational concerns. The Information Services Department, too, played its part, travelling to the rural areas with their cinema vans to educate people mainly on government policies.

That era was followed by local language drama, notably Akan Drama, on Ghana Television, with the ‘Osofo Dadzie’ and ‘Obra’ series, becoming an unmissable Sunday evening nationwide date with GTV. Later, other language groups too emerged, all with educationally themed plays.  

So why not use the drama method in the critical virus war? Touring communities with critical educational messages about the war against the virus, via drama, is a very pragmatic decision and the CNC Bono Region is to be commended for this timely initiative. One prays that the appeal by Ms Akanbon for support will receive an immediate, positive response. There is no time to lose in the fight on our hands.

Indeed it’s an initiative that could, and should, be replicated in all the regions as soon as possible to ensure that the weapon against the virus, EDUCATION, reaches all corners of the country.

As at June 10, the GHS update puts the number of COVID-19 cases at 10, 201, with 3, 755 recovered and 48 deaths. However, observers point out that the rise in recoveries is encouraging.
Nevertheless, the numbers who seem oblivious of the virus danger is worrying.

Could it also be that people just don’t understand the importance of the protective measures advised by the World Health Organization? Yet, these have been emphasized so many times by President Nana Akufo-Addo as well as the Ghana Health Service: including no handshakes; frequent hand washing and use of sanitizers; social/physical distancing and wearing masks.

The seeming ignorance is apparently what leads to the stigmatization. Why should anyone be stigmatized for suffering an affliction which can so easily happen to anyone? Even Ghanaian cultural teaching seriously frowns upon mocking someone because of their health status or disfigurement. Anyone who does that is viewed as uncouth.

I suggest that the CNC should contact the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), which already has a frontal role in public education about the pandemic, on the possibility of their two organizations joining forces.
Or perhaps the Presidency could link the two, through the GHS.   

If the NCCE could team up with the CNC to implement the educational programme through drama, in my view, it would be a brilliant partnership and would benefit the nation immensely.

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