Community engagement in COVID-19 prevention: experiences from Kilimanjaro region, Northern Tanzania

Innocent Baltazar Mboya, James Samwel Ngocho, Melina Mgongo, Linda Philip Samu, Jeremia Jackson Pyuza, Caroline Amour, Michael Johnson Mahande, Beatrice John Leyaro, Johnston Mukiza George, Rune Nathaniel Philemon, Florida Muro, Jenny Renju, Sia Emmanueli Msuya
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Prevention of exposure to the COVID-19 virus in the general population is an essential strategy to slow community transmission. This paper shares the experiences and challenges of community engagement in COVID-19 prevention in the Kilimanjaro region, Northern Tanzania implemented by our team from the Institute of Public Health (IPH), Kilimanjaro Christian Medical University College (KCMUCo) in collaboration with the COVID-19 response team in the Moshi Municipality. We conducted an education session with the COVID-19 response team and together brainstormed transmission hotspots and which interventions would be most feasible in their settings. The first hotspot identified was crowded local market spaces. Suggested interventions included targeted and mass public health education through the engagement of market opinion leaders, public announcements, and radio shows. We conducted participatory rural appraisal techniques to enable market vendors and clients to visualize two-meter distances and provided a prototype hand-washing facility that was foot operated. We found mass public health educational campaigns essential to inform and update the public about COVID-19 pandemic and to address rumors and misinformation, which hampers compliance with public health interventions. Coordinated efforts among stakeholders in the country are necessary to develop context-specific prevention and case management strategies following the national and international guidelines. Local ownership of recommended interventions is necessary to ensure compliance.