The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the vulnerability of many population groups. It has accentuated social inequalities and exposed vulnerabilities in health and social care.
Older people, refugees and migrants, and individuals with disabilities are impacted adversely by pandemics and require tailored and targeted solutions. Individuals who are homeless have unique challenges. Those in humanitarian settings such as refugee camps have vulnerabilities that must be taken into consideration when planning for readiness and response operations for the COVID-19 outbreak.
Effective community engagement and effective communication of risk are critical strategies to respond to COVID-19. The World Health Organization has developed checklists for risk communication and community engagement readiness and responses to the COVID-19 outbreak. It provides guidance for countries, both those preparing for the outbreak and those with confirmed cases.
“One of the most important and effective interventions in a public health response to any event is to proactively communicate what is known, what is unknown, and what is being done to get more information, with the objectives of saving lives and minimizing adverse consequences.”
There are also community mitigation activities that can slow the spread of infectious diseases, such as limiting large gatherings. These approaches are particularly important before a vaccine or drug becomes widely available. Involving key community leaders can also be important in addressing social norms, such as funeral services, and mobilizing resources.
In many settings healthcare workers play an important role in communicating with communities and managing outbreaks. They also face higher risks of potential COVID-19 infection as they are often more exposed and may also experience role burden and distress. It’s clear that protecting healthcare workers from being exposed to COVID-19 is critically important so that they can continue to care for individuals, avoid spreading the infection, and protect their own health.
Take your learning further
Community engagement strategies will vary across care settings. Many local health districts and organisations provide resources for community engagement, as highlighted in these examples:
- Manila, Philippines
- UNICEF guide on Engaging with Children and Adults with Disabilities
- Global community responses to trauma
Share your perspective
Thinking about your own healthcare setting, what is a particular community requiring unique response strategies?
How are you ensuring they are engaged in preparedness and response to the COVID-19 pandemic?