Country: Nepal

Organisation: Facebook page:I’m your Hygiene Counsellor’ (म तपाईंको स्वच्छता परामर्शदाता)

Point person and Role: Phurba S. Moktan, Counsellor, Buddha Bajracharya, Counsellor

Population served by the programme: 107,000 people reached (as of July 10, 2020)

Unique characteristics of the setting:

In Nepal, most people have limited English and the majority of COVID-19 information was only in English at the start of the pandemic. Outside of the cities in Nepal, few people have access to television and radio. But the expansion of mobile networks and their cheap data packages has led to a dramatic change in communication methods and now people routinely use Facebook for communication and information sharing.

Number of cases and deaths due to COVID-19 at time of publishing: New cases: 16,801, Deaths: 38

Briefly describe the key components of your COVID-19 response programme.

We decided to set up a Facebook page called I’m your Hygiene Counsellor (म तपाईंको स्वच्छता परामर्शदाता). The idea was to share practical and accessible information about COVID-19 prevention measures, with a focus on hygiene. Since the launch of the Facebook page we have reached 107,000 people through our posts and now we have more than 2000 people following our channel.

We have tried to use social media creatively and engage with people in various parts of Nepal. We have created infographics with text in Nepali to explain key government messages and actions. We have also created videos about how people can make soap, hand sanitiser, or handwashing facilities.

Image: Phurba Moktan, a Hygiene Counsellor, demonstrates how to build a pedal-operated soap or hand sanitiser dispenser through a social media video.

People can also ask us questions directly through the Facebook messenger function or just by posting comments and questions on our posts. We respond to these questions by drawing on our own expertise in WASH and public health, by explaining national and global guidelines in simple language, and if there are particularly technical questions we use our networks to identify other relevant experts who can respond.

For a while, there was a shortage of PPE and hygiene items in Nepal (things like masks, hand sanitiser and liquid soap). So we tried to share links to local manufactures who were producing these items so that people could get access to them more easily. We set up a shop function on the Facebook page for people to buy certain items including handwashing facilities and hand sanitiser dispensers.

Our most recent initiative is that we have launched a ‘hygiene audit’ service. This is designed to help small businesses to re-open safely with additional hygiene measures in place. As part of this, business owners can contact us and we will provide a tailored phone or online consultation to discuss the measures they should take.

What process did you use when designing your COVID-19 response programme?

Both of us have worked in WASH and public health for more than a decade and so we are well connected within the sector. We formed this social venture because we observed a clear information gap within Nepal. As we scrolled through the news on social media and television we noticed that most information was focused on symptoms and treatment of COVID-19. A lot of the national and global guidance on preventative actions was hard for populations to access and apply. When we looked at the information being shared by other NGOs, it was all very generic so we wanted to be able to offer something that was responsive to people’s specific situations (either as individuals or as people running businesses and institutions). At the same time, we were interacting with people in our networks and in our communities and noticing that there was real concern about COVID-19 and a lot of confusion. We decided it was necessary for information about COVID-19 to be available in the Nepali language and in a format that was widely accessible. Social media was also appealing because it allowed us a way of sharing our messages and give individual responses.

What is one thing that has been working really well so far and is there something other programmes could learn from this?

I think a large part of our success so far is that we are providing tailored and responsive advice in the local language. Since we have been connecting to people via social media we don’t always get to see first-hand the impact of our work. However, people are often very thankful for the information we share. Our hygiene audits in particular seem to be enabling small businesses to make meaningful yet affordable changes. For example, we recently worked with a hair salon. We had a 30-minute phone consultation and this led to the business owner ensuring that all his staff had access to masks and knew how to use them hygienically and safely. He also changed the set up of the salon to enable physical distancing, installed hand sanitiser dispensers and improved the ventilation in the space.

What is one challenge that you have encountered and how are you trying to overcome this?

We decided to do this in a voluntary capacity because we felt there was a gap that needed to be filled. However, we both have full-time jobs working on the broader COVID-19 response in Nepal. At the moment it is quite a lot to manage this page while working and still supporting our families. We had also initially used the Facebook ‘boost’ feature to promote some of our posts to a wider audience within Nepal. This was an effective way of engaging people with the content and our page but we are now reducing this because there is no formal funding to support our initiative. Having said this, we do now have lots of followers so we don’t feel this will be a major challenge going forward. We feel that our Facebook page continues to play an important role and contributes to the overall COVID-19 response in Nepal.

How have you been engaging communities throughout your programme and what feedback have you received?

Social media has the benefit of allowing real-time engagement with users. So what we often do is we take government guidance and make a simplified and more graphic depiction of the content. When we post this we encourage people’s questions on the topic. For example, the government recently said that it's ok for people to travel on public transport again. We created a post about safe travel on public vehicles and found that a lot of people were really concerned about this. We were then able to answer questions about the measures that people can take to make their journeys safer.

Editors notes

Author: Phurba S. Moktan and Buddha Bajracharya,

Date posted: 13.7.2020

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