In March 2020, as the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, misinformation about the virus spread in many communities around the world.

In Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province, like in many rural, remote villages, community members in Arun village did not have access to accurate information about the coronavirus. They were frightened about how the virus would affect their health, and some started taking antibiotics and other ineffective treatments in hopes that it would help them if they were sick.

Community Health Workers Looking to Help

Jawhar Baik is a community health worker in Arun. In 2005, he was trained by Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS) to provide basic health services and promote community health in his village. In many villages, community health workers are the primary health providers, and counsel their neighbors on various health issues. They also conduct screenings to identify malnutrition in children and serve as a bridge between community members and health facilities.

A man sitting on the floor in front of a red curtain looks straight at the camera

When Jawhar saw that his village was looking for health information about the coronavirus, he wanted to help. Through awareness trainings through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Aga Khan Foundation’s (AKF) Local Impact project, Jawhar is now equipped to help his community navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Afghanistan, Local Impact worked with the Ministry of Public Health and their Provincial Directorates to respond to the pandemic by building the capacity of local groups to raise public awareness. To combat the rapidly spreading misinformation and panic, AKF health specialists trained groups including community health workers to provide reliable and accurate information about COVID-19. In August 2020, AKF held a three-day awareness training in Arun for Jawhar and other community health workers. COVID-19 awareness trainings were also held for women’s groups, religious leaders and health shuras, Family Health Action Groups (FHAG), community-based savings groups, and community development councils to reach as many communities as possible and give both men and women access to information on the coronavirus in a culturally sensitive way.

People sit distanced in chairs and benches outside while listening to a COVID-19 awareness training
AKF held awareness trainings for CHWs to combat misinformation and panic.
Women wearing masks sit at separate desks while listening to a COVID-19 awareness training
Women CHWs at a COVID-19 awareness training in Talbuzang, Afghanistan.

Equipped to Fight Misinformation

The training supported by Local Impact is helping Jawhar to better support his community during the pandemic.

“Previously, we were unaware… now, I feel that I have significant knowledge and information on COVID-19 that can help us,” Jawhar said.

Jawhar is sharing what he has learned about COVID-19 prevention with his neighbors, training them on how to make reusable face masks, keep physical distance and wash their hands frequently. Having access to accurate information is calming many of the fears felt by the residents of Arun after they heard about COVID-19. Jawhar has noticed that people are not panicking, and they have become more confident about how to protect themselves and their family members.

Man standing up pointint to a poster to dispel COVID-19 misinformation as three men site below listening
Jawhar Baik teaching community members about COVID-19

“I am very happy to see how women and men of our community follow the instructions of preventing coronavirus,” Jawhar said.

Jawhar was one of 63 community health workers and FHAG members who received COVID-19 awareness trainings through Local Impact. More than 60 community health workers, FHAG members, and health staff were also trained in topics related to sexual and gender-based violence and psycho-social health, in response to rising domestic violence around the world during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Local Impact: A Transformative New Partnership in Asia and Africa is an innovative partnership working in Afghanistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan to improve access to basic services, increase economic growth, strengthen local communities, and promote inclusion. The partnership is working to put communities at the center of development by building the capacity of local citizens and institutions to develop new solutions to the challenges they identify.

Local Impact’s work to equip community health workers in Afghanistan is just one part of the program’s COVID-19 response. The program also worked with the Government of Afghanistan to set up and operate COVID-19 diagnostic centers in Badakhshan and Takhar provinces to identify and treat coronavirus patients. Additionally, Local Impact trained management and staff at health facilities on Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health guidelines on COVID-19 and helped medical and community spaces stay clean and safe by providing hygiene kits to health facilities and ambulances and distributing disinfectant powder to markets and mosques.