Joining hands with private sector to combat COVID-19 through communication technology

UNDP albania
Apr 3 · 6 min read

Everyday life was going on undisturbed, when Albania’s COVID-19 patient 0 was officially diagnosed and reported on March 9,2020.

People were hopping on and off buses by the hoards, leaving home and getting to work. Students kept laughing, hugging, chatting closely in crowded classrooms or over cups of coffee enjoyed collectively in the small cafes and late night pubs Albania is famous for.

Scanderberg Square in Tirana, Albania

Some were already facing the harsh reality of the post- 26 November earthquake that left behind 51 victims, thousands homeless and shattered dreams.

Skenderbeg Square during #Coronavirus outbreak

For some attentive few, the looming danger of COVID-19 was already a matter of “when”, rather than “if”. They carried small hand-sanitizers in their pockets and avoided proximity with people who showed signs of a compromised immune system. For most, though, the term “Coronavirus” was still a distant threat, despite the growing bad news coming from neighboring Italy daily. Most of all, life was going on based on the essential, physical human interconnectedness on which we have built our societies, soon to change.

The new panorama

Within two more days, Albanians came to understand that life as they knew it would drastically change on the short-term, while attempts to predict the future turned bleak.COVID-19 became the highlight of each day, along with terms unheard-of before, such as “social distancing” and “flattening the curve.While we at UNDP Albania “moved our offices home”, one thing became clear for us: In order to combat fear, disinformation and social vulnerability and, in turn, contribute to combating the disease, powerful virtual connections within and among communities are vital.

Information started floating around. In emergency situations, access to information plays a vital role in saving lives, but an abundance of information has often turned out to be harmful. The spread of the pandemic has been a prime example of this paradox. Fake news, myths and disinformation have been swamping social media and news outlets, creating a clutter of do-s and don’t-s that offer no added value in the fight against Coronavirus or suggesting “cures” for the virus — all going viral, thus causing more harm than good. The widespread fear makes one more vulnerable to fake news and disinformation.

UNDP Albania management team

How do you tackle this? How do you fill in the authoritative information gap, how do you deal with fake news?

With this in mind, UNDP joined forces with one of the country’s telecommunication companies, Telekom Albania, to implement a national public awareness and information campaign: “Spread the Word, Not the Virus”. It provides citizens trust-worthy and life-saving information, based on new scientific facts and evidence. This would combat disinformation too and thus elevate the efforts of health workers standing at the frontline of the pandemic.

What does the partnership entail?

A free-for-all web-portal is the heart of the campaign: https://www.telekom.com.al/covid-19/ — a virtual space offering Albanian-language information, carefully extracted from reliable sources such as the World Health Organization, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection and the Institute of Public Health. User-friendly and visually attractive, the platform gives information from general knowledge necessary to anyone who might still be uninformed about the novel Coronavirus, to offering advice on how individuals can act to significantly slow its spread. It also outlines specific tips for different population groups, including parents and working professionals, and ways to adjust to the lifestyle of social distancing.

The web-portal is accessible without internet connection, or to anyone using a smart device. Telekom Albania will not be charging any data to access COVID-19 -related information in the portal. To meet the needs of the population to consult with experts, the partnership further puts into use the power of technology and brings online medical sessions with a well-known Albanian pulmonologist to every citizen’s screen. This offers people an additional source to answer their questions regarding the disease and ways to combat it, as well as an expert’s opinion on case-specific issues, without overcrowding hospitals and phone lines and simultaneously respecting one of the most important measures to flattening the curve — staying home.

The pulmonologist is online at a specific time five times a week. The public is informed through social media channels.

One of the campaign images

The web-portal is accessible without Internet connection, to anyone using a smart device, without charging any data.

Albanian medical personnel at the frontlines of the disease.Photo credit: Ministry of Health and Social Protection.

To meet the needs of the population to consult with experts, the partnership further puts into use the power of technology and brings online medical sessions with a well-known Albanian pulmonologist to every citizen’s screen. This offers people an additional source to answer their questions regarding the disease and ways to combat it, as well as an expert’s opinion on case-specific issues, without overcrowding hospitals and phone lines and simultaneously respecting one of the most important measures to flattening the curve — staying home.

Pulmonologist Arjan Mezini

The pulmonologist is online at a specific time five times a week. The public is informed through social media channels.

Using the power of Social media

The campaign is using the power of social media to give out important facts and life-saving messages by also making use of Albanian influencers, in an attempt to amplify information among all population ages. Influencers will be posting short videos conveying key campaign messages and sharing posts from Telekom Albania and UNDP accounts. Hearing “influencers” factually speak about those who are most threatened and thus should be protected by potential asymptomatic cases, as well as bust myths about the “invincibility of youth”, could sharply raise awareness on how vital it really is to respect authorities’ measures as responsibly as we can. Visually attractive social media banners also bring facts, evidence and advice about the virus to the public. Our UNDP campaign is complimentary to the efforts of the Albanian health authorities and our sister UN Agency, the World

When will this come to an end?

The panorama offered at the beginning of this piece has changed entirely. The coronavirus has brought our life to a near standstill. No one seems to know when will this come to an end. While the nature of the pandemic changes quickly, the need for reliable information and advice remains constant.

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