By Christophe Hitayezu, Journalist and Internews Media Mentor
About one hundred faith-based organization representatives from 14 countries – of which 12 are African – gathered in Kigali for discussions on pandemic preparedness, response and recovery, communication, and advocacy as well as collaboration and partnership, in a conference at which Internews HJN members were given exclusive media coverage rights.
During the three-day 10th biennial conference that ended on Thursday 14th July, Christian faith-based leaders reviewed what roles Christian Health Associations have played: the successes, challenges, and opportunities for them to play a greater role in future pandemics.
In a plenary on communication and advocacy in pandemics, Carina Dinkel, medical doctor and focal person for clinical care and COVID-19 vaccination programs at Deutsches Institut für Ärztliche Mission e.V. (Difäm), shared the experience of how Difäm responded to fake news and misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Most of African countries recorded first COVID-19 cases in March 2020. So, we started a webinar series in April where many organizations participated. We talked about basic diagnostic and case management such as screening and clinical issues,” she said. “At the beginning of these webinars, there was not much other information available at that time. Then the Infodemic exploded, and there was information everywhere and of many different qualities.”
Due to challenges like airtime and connectivity among others, participation in the webinars gradually decreased. As result, she said that they shifted to regional WhatsApp groups through which information continued to be shared. “We came up with regional WhatsApp messaging groups, we established them in Francophone and Anglophone with primarily questions and answers format. If you have some questions, videos and you don’t know if that is fake news or real, just post it, and we run a fact check on it and then come back to you,” Carina said.
The other way they used the groups was weekly content, mainly podcasts with real news, countering fake news.
Talking on the outcomes of the conference, Dr. Chidzewere Nzou, who represented the Zimbabwe Association of Church-Related Hospitals (ZACH), said it raised awareness for the need for church hospital (CHA) association to be prepared for future pandemics. “Christian Health Associations should forge strong linkages with government by being part of various disaster or epidemic preparedness committees such as health education, infection prevention and control, monitoring and evaluation, disease surveillance, medicines doses etc.,” said Dr. Nzou.
“More so Christian Health Associations should forge strong synergies with church leaders as they are pivotal in dissemination of correct and consistent messages to fight myths and misconceptions,” he stressed.
Rev Tut Nguoth, Deputy Executive Director and Programmes Officer at the Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency in South Sudan, emphasized on the importance of following scientific facts and their relation to faith. “If there is misinformation about COVID-19, when the churches speak, people will tend to listen to them. When we look exactly what the Bible is saying, the scientists got all these inspirations from the word of God. Science and the faith are the same, they are not separate, they work together,” Rev Tut said.
The conference that was officiated by Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Dr. Daniel Ngamije, has started with an opening prayer leads by Cardinal Antoine Kambanda, Archbishop of Kigali in Rwanda.
Thanks to our partnership with the African Health Associations Platform (ACHAP), three Internews HJN members were offered exclusive access for media coverage, Represented media houses were Rwanda Broadcasting Agency – the country’s public TV and Radio, Cosmos Magazine as well as ROJAPED, a disability media professional’s organization in Rwanda.
In the newscast below, is Carine Umutoni’s story for the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (English version).
You can also read a story by HJN Member Jean Pierre Habimana of ROJAPED: