“I was infected with COVID-19 and had to suffer its symptoms for nearly 10 days, including fever,” said Zena Sabah, from Baghdad. “I tried to keep my mind off my illness. I took prescription medication and vitamins to boost my immunity, while continuing to work from home and exercising. This is how I beat the virus.”
Zena is one of nearly 358,290 people reported to have been infected by COVID-19, which caused over 9,100 deaths across Iraq, according to WHO figures as of September 2020. She shared her story to help raise awareness of the virus, its common symptoms and the importance of mental health and wellbeing to recovery. These, in fact, were among the key objectives of the Let’s Beat Corona campaign.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) implemented this campaign from June to September 2020 under the programmes Supporting Recovery and Stability in Iraq through Local Development funded by the European Union, and Headway, financed by the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, the ‘Madad Fund’. The campaign had two components, online and offline, and reached an estimated total of 31.7 million people across Iraq.
Collaborating with the local authorities and mobilizing dozens of volunteers, including from Volunteer with Us organization and Rwanga Foundation, helped the campaign reach local communities in nearly 5390 neighborhoods, hospitals and public places. Volunteers worked around the clock to disseminate nearly 70,000 awareness items in 10 governorates covered under the two aforementioned programmes: Erbil, Duhok, Sulaimaniyah, Halabja, Ninewah, Anbar, Salah al-Din, Basra, Missan and Thi Qar.
Informative posters, illustrating symptoms, hand cleaning, hygiene and protection tips, were put in public places. Car and floor stickers were distributed to promote physical distancing.
“The campaign posters reminded me of cleaning and sanitizing my hands every time I finish work.” Sabah Saeed, a butcher from Duhok, did not hesitate to request his customers to use hand sanitizer and adjust their masks or wear ones before accessing his shop.
Billboards displaying health guidance were mounted at checkpoints and several camps for displaced people and Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region. And, many officials, police officers and frontline workers, including at supermarkets, bakeries and pharmacies, wore the campaign pin badges to show gratitude and spread positivity.
Shna, a lady from Sulaimaniyah, noted that “with UNDP’s awareness campaign, people have become more committed to following health instructions while in the market.”
Utilizing seven digital platforms, the nationwide online campaign reached 2.7 million people and engaged with nearly 340,000 through 533 multimedia posts. It is estimated that 73 percent were males and 26 percent were females, which reflects the gender outlook of social media users in Iraq.
Head of the EU Delegation to the Republic of Iraq, H.E. Ambassador Martin Huth, said: “COVID-19 is a threat to all of us. The Let’s Beat Corona campaign was one way to express the solidarity of the European Union with the people of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, and to show that together we can help raise awareness, overcome this pandemic and recover faster.” Ambassador Ruth appeared in an informal video, sharing his own precautions during daily activities at the delegation premises in Baghdad.
Resident Representative of UNDP Iraq, Ms. Zena Ali Ahmed, expressed appreciation to the EU and Madad for funding the campaign: “The EU support was extended to the people of Iraq when needed most. We are encouraged by how adapting to the ‘new normal’ is gradually taking place in light of the awareness campaign and the combined efforts of the authorities, local communities and other stakeholders.”
A first for UNDP Iraq, the campaign introduced infotainment and the use of innovative, light content to be more appealing and relevant to the young generations. Highly engaging were an online solidarity concert and e-trivia game with multiple-choice questions about the virus. The concert, named Music is Our Ally, featured 16 famous Iraqi and Kurdish artists and reached over 160,000 people.
Among those was Ali Al-Nasrawi, another young recovered patient who sent us his video testimonial through social media. His main message was: “Practice physical distancing and commit to wearing the mask to avoid getting infected or infecting others by COVID-19.”