Low- and middle-income countries are most at risk from the COVID-19 pandemic. With weaker primary health care systems, their communities are most vulnerable to the disease itself, as well as the barriers it has created to existing health services. Various lockdown measures associated with COVID-19 created significant challenges for the rural communities reach52 operates in across South and South East Asia.
Under-resourced, frontline Community Health Workers lacked specialized knowledge about basic COVID-19 prevention strategies and needed to continue to access support for a range of existing diseases they were dealing with. Yet restrictions on congregating in groups posed barriers to rapid upskilling and training in person.
Among populations globally, misinformation involving COVID-19 created mass confusion and widespread rumours, giving rise to the concept of an ‘infodemic.’
There was an urgent need to design and implement innovative health solutions to provide support to both health workers and rural residents for COVID-19, helping to prevent community transmission and ultimately save lives.
With the emergence of COVID-19, reach52 conducted a rapid needs assessment with existing community partners, including local health systems and NGOs, to gain a clear understanding of the challenges posed by the then-emerging viral threat.
reach52 collaborated with Johnson & Johnson to develop and implement a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention solution for rural populations in select high-risk countries across Asia and Africa.
This intervention adopted a dual-channel strategy, engaging rural frontline community health workers with upskilling and training, while also directly engaging rural populations with interactive chatbot services for COVID-19 and other health areas.
Frontline health workers were provided training and resources on COVID-19 prevention strategies using predominantly digital channels – specifically reach52’s mediconnect eLearning platform, a multilingual low bandwidth platform providing content in both basic text and rich media. Progress of individual learners is monitored, with outcomes measured through pre/post testing and learnings reinforced using in-person sessions where safe to do so.
We also needed to find new ways to reach hard-to-reach rural regions with essential health information and support. These rural communities were more isolated than ever due to lockdowns and restrictions on the ground.
Part of our response was the design and build of new health chatbots which were delivered via a low spec version of Facebook Messenger to remote rural communities in India, Cambodia, The Philippines, Kenya and Senegal.
The chatbots were deployed through Facebook Messenger, the leading social media platform in most of our target communities, which can typically be accessed without data fees, and is compatible with basic feature phones. These chatbots included…
- COVID-19 Information and Symptom Checker – residents can quickly check COVID-19 symptoms, get advice & understand COVID-19 facts vs myths – helping prevent community misinformation and transmission
- Online health check – answer simple questions about your health, lifestyle and diet. It takes less than 10 minutes, then you receive your health check summary and recommendations.
To drive awareness of the service, we promoted the service through geo-targeted advertising on Facebook/Facebook Messenger, social media influencers and community partners
This project was launched in May, 2020, running for a total of 6 months.
A total of 1916 frontline Community Health Workers were upskilled on COVID-19 prevention strategies across Philippines and Cambodia, potentially impacting >200,000 residents in catchment areas.
Pre/post testing indicated that upskilled Community Health Workers demonstrated improved knowledge, attitudes and practices, compared with baseline.
A further 100,000 rural residents used reach52’s health chatbots, in 5 countries, in multiple languages, across Asia and Africa.
Users who interacted with the chatbot demonstrated higher levels of COVID-19 knowledge, compared to non-users.
Based on the success of this project, we anticipate expanding our Community Health Worker upskilling initiative to additional regions and disease areas, in cooperation with Johnson & Johnson.