Invisible corona virus at Uhan, China, though local, became focused in the international media world-over due to its deadly attack on the local population in December 2019 with serious threat to spread like wildfire globally. This was a local happening, but, in no time, it turned into a global pandemic with serious consequences across all the continents. In a globalized world, many nation-states with their not so tight borders started to declare their isolations like “iron or bamboo curtain” of mid- twentieth century in response to the degree of threat of spreading this infection in each individual state. Globally humanity is advised to embrace a “new-normal” condition to live with it for earlier norms are not the normal fit with the emerging situation.
Having said so, the vision, mission, values, goals and strategies for all organized human activities need relevant critical thinking anew around these types of plan globally as well as locally. The dictates of the emerging situation are logically going to influence necessary changes for the humanity’s survival and sustenance. Strategies are so important and critical that the realization of intention as contained in vision to goals depends on the relevant strategies to be formulated, put in use and seriously pursued. The strategies are considered to be the best fits to the prevailing as well as anticipated situations—both current and future. So, it can be an intended plan, emerging pattern, adopted position, a felt perspective and also a ploy to hoodwink the enemy.
When strategies are so important and critical for achieving goals and objectives of all organized human activities, a clear understanding of what the strategies mean is necessary for all concerned for their formulation, putting in use and pursuance. “The strategies are the methods that adapt to conditions, responding to anticipated situations to achieve a complex goal”. For achieving the goals, methods are enough, but when these are not so simple, but require clear understanding of interconnectedness and interdependence of elements in the system, strategies assume their importance and critical values. So, communication strategy is essentially the best fitting ways and means in the course of exchange of information that is mutually understood by both the senders and receivers.
It is often said that information is the best weapon— be it in war or in business. So, this information weapon is now the winning gun to fight against the Covid 19 killer disease. This fight is fought in two fronts—preventive as well as curative. Leaving the curative front to the doctors, nurses and the hospitals, the preventive front requires mass involvement as in people’s war and the best weapons to them are information on preventive health care. So, the well devised communication strategies can go a long way to best equip the people with all necessary information for use by them as well as the policy-makers and other relevant actors to defeat the prevailing pandemic menace. This should be the best fit in terms of man, woman and children (target receivers), money (budget), message (information) and media (traditional, electronic, print, online, etc.).
It has been said earlier that achieving complex goal requires the application of appropriate strategy. Communication strategy for prevention of Covid 19 requires mass-offensive by the involvement of mass people and all relevant actors. Therefore, the components of the communication strategy have to be (a) advocacy, (b) community mobilization and (c) social and behavior change communication (SBCC). At the outset of the pandemic outbreak, there was ignorance and dearth of everything including all necessary information. After overcoming the dumbfounding initial shock, now it appears that people will have to live with the Covid 19 menace for more months and years to come. Along with other things, appropriate communication strategy should be there everywhere with focus on SBCC.
Coordinated and all inclusive communication strategy has to include the advocacy component along with other two components. Why advocacy? Because “advocacy consists of organization of information into arguments to be communicated through various interpersonal and media channels with a view to gaining political and social leadership acceptance and preparing society for a particular development program”. Although Covid 19 prevention is not a development program as usual, but its acceptance by the political and social leaders, policy-makers and the like is very crucial in the fight against the prevailing pandemic. In this target group of people, there might be bigots, fatalists and ignorants in the midst of many rational people. So, their acceptance has to be gained with science, logic and evidence.
Community mobilization is another important component of the communication strategy. Community or social mobilization is “the process of bringing together all feasible and practical inter-sectoral allies to raise awareness of and demand for a particular development program, to assist in the resources and services and to strengthen community participation for sustainability and self-reliance.” Bringing together the allies like civil society actors, religious leaders, educationists, cultural activists and so on requires networking among the allies, goal- and objective-oriented communication, persuasion, follow-up and related other activities under the guidelines of World Health Organization and other relevant authorities.
The focused SBCC is the most critical component of the communication strategy. Since the new normal situation is going to be the go of the day, there is emerging a situation where some of the earlier behavioral norms and the values will be misfit. In order to switch over to the needed changed behavior in the new normalcy, this type of communication with messages aiming at adoption of changed behavioral norm and practices matching the need of the emergent time. In earlier times, an evolutionary process through the trial and error type used to arise and come into vogue. At present, it has become so urgent that there should be SBCC intervention by the concerned agencies. The services of specialized communication agencies can be hired for the purpose. Hopefully, in the light of the above discussion, Bangladesh along with others will not lag behind.
Shajahan Bhuiya is a columnist and vice-chairman of CDIP