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Why are our interventions failing? A need for contextual understanding when providing health-related interventions on the African continent

Health interventions across the continent are often faced with deep suspicion from local communities. This remains one of the biggest barriers for health interventions and is a well known sentiment - the field of public health has coined the term “Index of Suspicion” to describe the public’s general suspicion towards health related information. There is, however, a noticeably high level of distrust to health-related communication strategies across the African continent . This has, and continues to affect health interventions on the continent. A recent example being the delayed recognition and treatment of Ebola.

When looking at it from the African context, this hesitancy and/ or suspicion in the field is understandable but international organisations sometimes forget the history of medical research on the continent.  Africans have historically been misrepresented by the  Global North even in just how they are spoken about; “...when we talk about Africa, more often than not, it's to talk about catastrophes and epidemics, and to conflate a single country with a continent”. Studies on the public’s responses to the Covid- 19 pandemic in Africa found that people were affected by people’s mistrust of the elite, international organisations and medical authorities. 

We therefore need to look into the historical context and the experiences that African people have in order to understand how they process information with a focus on what information they would welcome and what information they would be hesitant towards.

At TRi Facts we believe that for interventions and communication strategies to be well received across the continent, actors need to be aware, sensitive to and reflect on how they are perceived by the people they are trying to reach. There is a need to take a step back and consider what in peoples’ history and lived experiences could be making them suspicious or hesitant towards certain interventions. From that understanding we can then build communication strategies that are not only efficient but address those concerns. We, as organisations, need to go beyond awareness and actually shape our communication from a place of empathy and understanding whilst also taking into consideration the local context. 

When putting together communication strategies and interventions on the continent it is important to ensure that they:

  1. represent the communities they serve,
  2. acknowledge and respect the contexts of these communities and 
  3. give people within these communities a platform to raise their concerns.

An example of this is an Interactive Radio Drama project that was launched by Africa Check in Nigeria and Senegal. This project was aimed at curbing Covid-19 vaccine misinformation through innovative local language radio shows using media literacy and input from experts to change the attitudes and behaviour of the public. What worked about this project was that they used the local languages of these regions, they put together a local team of performers who brought their context to the programme and the programme was informed by local misinformation trends from those regions. The public got to be a part of it through actively participating by phoning in and becoming part of the drama. You can read more about this project here.

Get in touch with us to see how best TRi Facts can support your organisation in building effective communication strategies and interventions for your African audience.