By Nyaradzo Nyere
A Zimbabwean community-based organisation is using cheaper information communication technology (ICT) platforms to increase awareness about Covid-19 in rural areas at a time infections are rising in remote parts of the country.
The Wedza Residents Development Trust (WERDIT), is using WhatsApp and SMS platforms to reach villagers, who have limited access to the mainstream media, which is favoured by the government to disseminate information about the pandemic.
Morris Zhowezha, WERDIT programmes officer, said they created various online platforms after realising that the villagers were struggling to access information about Covid-19.
“It is platform where residents from all 15 wards in Hwedza district in Mashonaland East, share information from their communities, mainly information about Covid-19,” Zhowezha said.
“We created WhatsApp groups and SMS platforms. In every ward we have community advocacy teams.
“We also work hand in hand with the district Covid-19 task force, which includes the Zimbabwe Republic Police and rural district council, among other stakeholders.”
He said the initiative was motivated by the need to ensure people in rural areas had access to credible information about Covid-19.
“Residents responded positively because the initiative is providing them with instant information about Covid-19,” he said.
Farayi Chishaka, a villager in Hwedza, said he benefited immensely from the platforms as he was able to get up to date information about Covid-19.
“Many people in the rural areas have limited access to information and are not fully aware of their constitutional rights, so such platforms are very vital,” Chishaka said.
Another villager, Melody Kasinamhuru, said access to reliable information meant that villagers did not fall victim to fake news.
“Through the platform l have managed to get verified and accurate information relating to Covid-19,” Kasinamhuru said.
“There is so much fake news going around communities and it’s hard to separate and differentiate true information from fake information, the platform helps us clarify a lot of things,”
Fellow villager, Josphat Magwenzi, concurred saying a lasting solution to the information gap was the setting up of community radio stations.
“We hardly have reliable radio reception here. If we had our own community radio station here it would have gone a long way in providing information to residents,” he said.
Access to reliable information in Zimbabwe especially in rural areas is limited due to poor telephone network coverage and lack of radio and television transmitters in remote areas.
According to an Afrobarometer survey, as of July 2018, more than nine out of 10 Zimbabwean households (95 percent), had cellphones, while 77 percent had radios, 49 percent had televisions, and only 23 percent had computers.
“Cellphone service was available in almost all urban zones as of 2017, but 15% of rural areas did not have coverage,” Afrobarometer said then.
“Fewer than half (43%) of cell-phone owners and only 28% in rural areas aid their phones had access to the internet.”