By Prudence Okonna
The need to enhance access to COVID-19 tests, isolation, care, and treatment interventions within health systems in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja has been brought to the front burner through the STAR COVID-19 project material development workshop organized by the Society for Family Health (SFH).
The STAR is an acronym for Self-Test Africa COVID-19 project with a priority to promote demand creation on testing, which is being implemented in these countries namely, Brazil, India, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria. For Nigeria, FCT is the pilot location, hence, the need to create communication materials that are tailored to its population.
According to the project lead for the STAR COVID-19 project in Society for Family Health, Yamen Okonkwo, the project is market research around the testing for COVID-19. So, it is a pilot market research that is domiciled for now in the FCT, working in the six area councils. The major goal of the project is to generate evidence on the accessibility, feasibility, and affordability of rapid diagnostic test kits for COVID-19.
‘’Whilst we are also trying to see how we can bring out the evidence for the self-test because recently the self-test component of COVID-19 testing has just been included to the national testing guidelines.’’
The material development workshop brought together partners and stakeholders in Risk communication such as the Public health Department (PHD)-Health and Human Services Secretariat (HHSS)- FCT, Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), Breakthrough Action- Nigeria, Zankli Research Center, Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the presidential steering committee on COVID-19. The development of these communication materials sought to fill gaps in existing materials and meet up with existing realities on covid-19.
Regarding the development of the materials, Okonkwo added that ‘’ we are reviewing where gaps are for us to address the gaps when it comes to dissemination of information, to generate demand for the product. We are sure that we are addressing the situation as it is today, not as when the pandemic started. A lot of changes have occurred and these have to be reflected in the materials that are being developed.’’
While the development of communication materials was the priority, the need to combat myths and misconceptions around COVID-19 was discussed in other to develop more robust communication materials.
The STAR COVID-19 project which is funded by UNITAID, with global partners/implementers, such as Population Services International (PSI), is in charge of providing oversight implementation while the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene are the global researchers.
So, the project is specific to five major work areas; one of the work areas is stakeholder engagement, which is looking at bringing key partners together in the covid-19 response to create an enabling environment. Another work area is supply chain strengthening, which is looking at the inclusion of covid-19 rapid diagnostic test kit in the national forecasting and quantification products generally. Another work area is evidence generation which is being done with the Zankli research center, by collecting data from the evidence that’s being generated from the implementation.
‘’One other work area is the outreaches. So far, we have done three outreaches in the motor parks and one in the tertiary institution. From the outreaches, we have done and because of the misconceptions that still exist around COVID-19, we have to do a lot of mobilization to get people to come and get tested.
We had up to 300 tests and we have gotten two positive cases, so the positivity rate is actually less than three percent.’’ Okonkwo added.
The project which began in 2021 was officially launched in February 2022 will see its first phase end in September 2022.