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Fiji: Listening leads to more impactful communication and stronger COVID-19 response – Fiji


As COVID-19 cases increased dramatically in Fiji in June 2021, health authorities noticed something strange: there was a less than expected increase in the number of people visiting health facilities for treatment for COVID-19 or other conditions. But there have been reports of people dying at home or arriving at hospital too late for treatment.

To find out what was going on, the Fiji Ministry of Health and Medical Services, together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners, turned to the ‘Social Listening’ system. that he had set up a month earlier.

In public health, social listening is an important tool used to understand what the public is thinking and doing; during a health emergency, for example. This allows adjustments to be made to the response to better meet people’s needs. With financial support from the European Union, WHO is helping Pacific island countries introduce and scale up social listening throughout the pandemic.

Fiji’s Social Listening System was originally set up in May 2021 to identify and counter rumors and misinformation as the country prepared to roll out COVID-19 vaccines. But now the bugging system was urgently needed to reverse the trend of people appearing to avoid health care.

In this particular case, risk communication and community engagement specialists in Fiji listened to opinions expressed on social media, in calls to hotlines, in the news and in discussions with community volunteers and mobile medical teams.

Here’s an example of what the team heard:

“My grandmother [grandmother] was sick with all the symptoms of COVID-19. We were too scared to take her to the hospital – she was so scared too. All of his friends and family who went to… the hospital are dead… No family, no loved ones, no one with them!

More than 600 comments, mostly on social media, expressed people’s fear of being trapped alone in hospitals without care, or worse, of dying there.

Ms Arishma Devi, a risk communication specialist hired by WHO to work with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, said listening to what Fiji was saying gave the team unique and important insights. on what motivated their behavior:

“Once we started hearing from the experiences of ordinary Fijians, we could see where some of the obvious gaps were. We then very quickly escalated the complaints we heard to other parts of the COVID-19 response so they could be addressed. For example, when we learned that there were no adequate mattresses in some of the school isolation centres, we notified our partners who helped rectify the situation. Then we worked to restore people’s trust in the healthcare system, because we knew that getting care in the right place at the right time was key to keeping people alive during this pandemic.

To demystify and personalize health care, the Department of Health and Medical Services, with the support of WHO, has launched a three-pronged campaign.

The first part highlighted the commitment of nurses, doctors and paramedics.

“We are part of the solution,” Chief Nurse Maria Bucago tearfully said in a video titled Meet Our Frontliners posted on the ministry’s Facebook page. Leaving her husband and five children in Serua province, she served at the Fiji Emergency Medical Assistance Team (FEMAT) hospital in the capital, Suva, during this extraordinary time.

“This is a national crisis and it is a national call for me and my colleagues. I never imagined it would be like this in my nursing career,” she said.

“There is only one thing I would like to plead with my fellow Fijians – please follow the advice of the Ministry of Health. We don’t want things to get worse.”

The campaign also included testimonials from patients treated at the height of the 2021 case surge who spoke of the professionalism, empathy and care they encountered.

A final part of the campaign was to respond to questions and concerns. A ministry team answered questions on social media and hotlines, and directed people to healthcare resources.

The campaign was a success online, generating more than 200,000 views for Nurse Bucago’s video alone and hundreds of supportive comments such as “Thank you, sister, for your hard work.” This video moved me so much. My prayers are with all frontline workers. Together we can do it.”

Importantly, in the real world, more people have sought treatment for COVID-19 and other conditions.

Fiji’s Social Listening System has continued to inform the country’s response to COVID-19. When Fiji was ready to roll out the COVID-19 vaccines, social listening identified that many people wanted to avoid further lockdowns. Guided by this idea, messages highlighted the importance of vaccination and COVID-safe behaviors to help ease movement restrictions, as well as provide a safer environment for communities.

As a result, the team noticed much more positive conversations about vaccination online. As of July 7, 2022, nearly 90% of the eligible population has been vaccinated. Thanks to vaccine protection and increased comfort in seeking health care, fewer people are dying during the current outbreak of COVID-19 transmission.

WHO Representative for the South Pacific and Director of Pacific Technical Support, Dr Mark Jacobs, said: “What happens with the COVID-19 pandemic depends to a large extent on how we behave. as individuals and communities. Taking the time to listen to the public and understand the drivers of their behavior has given the Government of Fiji, together with WHO and partners, the opportunity to ensure that their communications and the wider emergency response are better adapted to the preferences, needs and expectations of the population. . As a result, lives have been saved. Given the excellent results and the capacity that has been built, we hope that social listening will be used to solve other health problems in Fiji and elsewhere in the Pacific. »

In Fiji, other social listening partners include UNICEF, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Community of the Pacific (SPC).

Across the Western Pacific Region, WHO is scaling up its use of health communication to address complex health challenges. Learn more about Communication for Health (C4H)