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Using faith and music to fight Covid-19

  • Published at 04:35 pm September 21st, 2020
The Saaf Roi project is employing musicians and faith leaders to educate the public about the pandemic|Courtesy

Faith leaders and musicians are working together to raise awareness about Covid-19 in remote areas of Cox’s Bazar

With the death toll from Covid-19 crossing 4,500 in the country, the coronavirus is an unlikely subject for a catchy song. But a lively number, sung in the Chittagong dialect by a group of popular artistes, is taking social media by storm, racking up more than 1200 shares and likes in just a few days. 

The music video ‘Saaf Roi, Corona jaibo giyoi’ (‘Let’s stay clean, the virus will flee’) provides Covid-19 prevention information to Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi host communities in Cox’s Bazar in the local dialect. 

The song, performed by popular musicians Nishita Barua, Kishore Das, Ronti Das, and Arman, has a straightforward message - by observing a few simple rules, we can stay safe and protect others. “Wear a mask, brothers, when out of doors – don’t touch your face, stop Covid at source,” they sing, before going on to provide other health messages. 

The wildly popular song is just one of several initiatives launched by the Saaf Roi project, which uses entertainment education to transmit health messages and trains musicians, cultural icons and faith leaders as change agents. 

The Saaf Roi project is implemented by the nonprofit Center for Communication Action Bangladesh (C-CAB), with support from UKAid, Unilever and the International Rescue Committee. C-CAB is a unit of Activity for Reformation of Basic Needs – ARBAN, an NGO active in youth engagement and gender empowerment. 

Zain Mahmood, Director of the Center for Communication Action Bangladesh (C-CAB) argues that it is not sufficient to adopt a purely medical approach to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"I think we are missing an essential element which is the need to mobilise communities and change behaviour," Mahmood said. "That's why we see complacency - mask use is dropping and people are not practising social distancing as much as before."

Cox’s Bazar is one of the districts most at risk, and became the first “red zone” to be locked down by the government in June. Until August, more than 3,400 Covid-19 cases were identified in the district with 71 confirmed cases in the Rohingya camps. Remote communities with high illiteracy, lack of healthcare access, coupled with the presence of nearly a million Rohingya refugees in densely packed camps, make Cox’s Bazar especially vulnerable to Covid-19.

Alongside musicians and other celebrities, the Saaf Roi project is working with faith leaders to raise awareness and change behavior around Covid-19 in remote areas of Cox’s Bazar. More than 200 faith leaders, including Imams, priests and pastors, are being trained to spread key messages about coronavirus prevention and social cohesion in the Rohingya refugee camps and Bangladeshi host community villages.

“I preach about spiritual and community matters every day. Now it’s my duty to preach about stopping the virus. We have come together to fight this invisible enemy," said Saiful Islam, Imam of Rajapalong Baitush Sharaf Jame mosque.

C-CAB is also airing a radio drama, distributing flyers, posters and stickers and producing a comic book to raise awareness about the pandemic and change behavior as part of a 360 degree communication campaign.

Shukhi Barua, a 33-year-old woman in Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar, says the Saaf Roi flyers and posters have inspired her to take hygiene measures at home. “I knew about the virus,” she said. “But now I know exactly what to do about it. Even my young son is excited about washing his hands.”


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