The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a standstill. In its earliest days, the world was slow to come to terms with the threat it posed when the disease was less well understood - but it has since reacted vociferously to stem the tide of rising infections to make up for lost time.
Our Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) was set up at the Chief Minister’s Office in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) last year. The main objective of the unit was to help communicate the efforts and benefits of the Newly Merged Districts (erstwhile FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa declared a health emergency at the beginning of February 2020 and created a joint task force of several departments to develop a coherent and robust public policy response. The SCU refocused all its work on supporting the government in tackling the crisis.
After submitting two strategy papers on creating the principles of public communications of the government in their dialogue with the public, the team starting working on video content about COVID-19 preventive measures. The first precautionary measures video was translated from Urdu into nine regional languages to ensure representational equity for all the ethnicities in the province of KP.
From basics methods of prevention of the disease, the scope of the work and messaging was expanded rapidly to address the many different audiences, and behaviour change needs that COVID-19 suppression required. In the past two months, the SCU team has produced 32 videos in-house on various aspects of the COVID-19 crisis. During this period, a team member of the SCU also scripted a video with a group of talented film and sound professionals to produce a pro-bono animation that became Pakistan’s most viral public service announcement. This was later covered by Reuters and also appeared in the New York Times.
The team conducted a baseline dipstick study to understand existing public knowledge of Covid-19 in Pakistan’s most underdeveloped areas, identified communications channels that could reach them, and assess the public response to the lockdown and preventive measures in place to control the outbreak of the virus. They then created videos with popular religious leaders and politicians to give testimonials to the public about preventive measures from messengers they know and trust. Further work was done on popularizing the Corona Toll-Free Helpline number through radio messages and videos, so people can call reporting cases or discuss their own health and whether their symptoms required any action.
Videos were also made demonstrating how to use ATMs safely during this period to reduce crowding in banks, as well as how to shop carefully without the risk of being infected aimed at women and families. The team has also been working to get the message out on initiatives the government has taken, such as the recruitment drive of locums for health care professionals to expand the healthcare response and safety measures for frontline workers.
Despite the growth of multiple digital platforms in Pakistan, according to a Gallup survey, TV remains a mainstay in people’s homes with the average Pakistani watching over two hours of it daily.[i] The SCU produced three television commercials funded by USAID that were broadcast by Pakistan Television (PTV), whose signals reach 90% of the country’s population, as part of their corporate social responsibility drive arranged by UNDP’s Communications team in Islamabad. The same team arranged for two Pashto TV channels (K2 and Khyber TV) to air the videos with some of them translated into Dari.
The UNDP is proud to be partnering with the government, development partners, and frontline workers in responding to this crisis; finding inspiration in the work of many who have come together against this pandemic.