Short Report - Special Collection: COVID-19

Why communities must be at the centre of the Coronavirus disease 2019 response: Lessons from Ebola and human immunodeficiency virus in Africa

Oliver Johnson, Tinashe Goronga
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 12, No 1 | a2496 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v12i1.2496 | © 2020 Oliver Johnson, Tinashe Goronga | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 April 2020 | Published: 22 June 2020

About the author(s)

Oliver Johnson, Department of Health Services and Population Research, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, United Kingdom; and, Centre for Health Policy, School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Tinashe Goronga, Center for Health Equity Zimbabwe, Social Medicine Consortium Global Campaign Against Racism, Harare, Zimbabwe


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Abstract

As the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has spread globally, with no effective treatment or vaccine yet available, governments in many countries have put in place social interventions to control the outbreak. The various lockdown measures may have devastating impacts on economies and livelihoods. This approach risks undermining public trust in government responses and therefore undermines efforts to promote behaviour change, which is key to the success of social interventions. Important lessons can be drawn from past Ebola outbreaks and the human immunodeficiency virus pandemic on how communities should be central to COVID-19 responses. Communities are complex and only their members can inform public health experts about their lived realities, the community’s understanding of the outbreak and what will work locally to reduce transmission. The public should be encouraged to take positive actions to ensure their own health and well-being, rather than made to feel powerless. Communities should be supported to develop their own response plans, community leaders should be recognised as vital assets, community representatives should have equal inclusion in strategic meetings and greater empathy should be built into decision-making processes.

Keywords

COVID-19; coronavirus; outbreak; non-pharmaceutical intervention; community; community engagement; empathy; behaviour change

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