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Burkina Faso: Community leaders encourage people to adopt precautionary measures against COVID-19

His Majesty Noanfa II, chief of Dano county, is a champion in the fight against COVID-19 in Ioba, a province in southwest Burkina Faso. From the first moments of the pandemic, he has been receptive to the key messages about preventing COVID-19. Whether traveling by motorbike or car, he always wears a mask and practices safe greetings to avoid spreading the virus. He also participates in radio programs to make his community aware of preventative measures. He says, “To have an impact, we must serve as a model to encourage reluctant populations.”

His Majesty Noanfa II has also adopted a new way of life. He has reduced the number of followers in his entourage, no longer requiring the same pageantry as before COVID-19. He used to receive guests with a dozen followers, but now includes just two or three in his entourage.

He is the spokesperson for eight chiefs in the province of Ioba. To protect the inhabitants of their respective counties, the chiefs have suspended traditional markets, funerals, and large gatherings. They have also banned handshakes during greetings and the consumption of a local millet beer. ln the South West region of Burkina Faso, it is a traditional sign of respect to offer this beer to guests. But sharing drinks can spread the virus.

His Majesty says he followed the advice of authorities and asked his community to wear masks and respect social distancing. Villagers are wearing masks made by local tailors rather than conventional medical masks.

According to His Majesty, wearing masks and respecting social distancing were the two most difficult measures to promote. In this rural area, it is a sign of disrespect to greet someone without shaking their hand. But Noanfa II says, “The villagers are generally respecting the measures.”

He recognizes that the disease disrupts traditional customs, which can be upsetting for people. He says, “We cannot greet each other as before. You are not going to a parent’s funeral—that is a problem. People hold this against you.”

Religious leaders in Ioba, including leaders in the Catholic church, are joining the traditional chiefs in promoting precautionary measures. Father Paulin Somda is the curate of Notre Dame de Lourdes de Dano parish. He looks desperately at the closed church, but he knows it was necessary. He says: “The first time I celebrated mass without a congregation, I felt the emptiness and a shock. Because mass means a gathering. But because of the way that the disease is transmitted, we have all accepted the measures promoted by the authorities. Fortunately, we haven’t heard of any reluctance.”

Roch Dabiré is the regional director of the health science research institute in the Hauts Bassins region. He says cultural and religious authorities have done a good job of respecting protection measures. He adds that social distancing is important and must be observed in rural areas as well as cities, particularly at communal water points, bars, and other gathering places.

Dr. Dabiré says the disease is transmitted by droplets from infected people, and that knowing how the disease is transmitted helps to fight it. This is why it’s important to keep at least one metre between yourself and another person and to wear a mask.

Religious, cultural, and administrative authorities and everyone else have the same objective: to break the chain of transmission. That is why His Majesty Noanfa II says that even the most simple measures should be respected.

The Catholic Church in Dano understands this and has installed handwashing stations in each parish office. Father Paulin Somda says, “These offices are crowded, so it was imperative to adopt measures like handwashing.”

Until a vaccine and treatment is discovered, his Majesty Noanfa II and Father Paulin Somba will not stop advising their community on best practices for avoiding COVID-19.

This article was produced with the support of the Government of Canada through the project “Promoting health, sexual and reproductive rights, and nutrition among adolescents in Burkina Faso (ADOSANTE).” The ADOSANTE project is led by a consortium including Helen Keller International, Marie Stopes-Burkina Faso (MS/BF), Farm Radio International, the Centre d’information de Conseils et de Documentation sur le Sida et la Tuberculeuse (CICDoc), and the Réseau Afrique Jeunesse Santé et Développement (RAJS).