Zambian Chiefs Bring
COVID-19 Messages Home

JSI implements the five-year USAID DISCOVER-Health project, which supports the Ministry of Health (MOH) to provide high-quality health services and products in Zambia. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the continuation of front-line health service delivery, the project has supported Zambia’s COVID-19 emergency response in the following ways: procurement of emergency response supplies and commodities; implementation of interventions to enhance preparedness and response in six provinces through both funding and technical assistance; and support to MOH and Zambia National Public Health Institute risk communication and community engagement activities. 

With United States Agency for International Development (USAID) support, the project is now leading a chiefdom sensitization program to help contain COVID-19.

“Traditional leaders are the custodians of our culture, and they help to define our social norms. I have no doubt in my mind that U.S. Government support to assist traditional leaders with accurate COVID-19 messaging will help reduce the spread and encourage timely access to services for those who are infected.” -Project Director Dr. Muka Chikuba-McLeod.

Working with the House of Chiefs and building on existing partnerships, USAID DISCOVER-Health is supporting information dissemination across all 10 provinces in 277 of the nation’s 288 chiefdoms. The effort launched at the House of Chiefs in Lusaka on Thursday, May 7 and was presided over by His Royal Highness (HRH) Chief Kaputa, Chairperson of the House of Chiefs, who stated, “Today we are faced with an adversary that many have described as the greatest threat to humankind, COVID-19. The disease is now with us and has devastated many lives regardless of one’s age, sex, race, religion, rich or poor, urban or rural…This is a fundamental commitment of all the chiefs in Zambia to work with government in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

JSI's USAID DISCOVER-Health project is working with community chiefs in Zambia to deliver COVID-19 prevention messaging to their communities.

HRH Chief Kaputa at the launch of the program at the House of Chiefs in Lusaka, Zambia.

Recognizing the danger that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to the health and safety of their people, at very short notice, the royal highnesses dropped everything and gathered in small groups across the country. Sensitization sessions took place over the course of a week in May, with chiefs learning about COVID-19 and how to protect their people. The one-day sessions were led by clinical professionals from USAID DISCOVER-Health, accompanied by MOH and Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs (MOCTA) officials. Participants learned about how COVID-19 is transmitted and ways that community members can prevent or minimize its transmission in a mix of formal presentations, discussions, and question-and-answer sessions.  

USAID DISCOVER-Health translated MOH materials including posters, fact sheets, and brochures into seven local languages, and printed and distributed 168,000 copies via chiefs and health facilities. The chiefs also received cloth masks and UNICEF COVID-19 chitenge. HRH Chief Mumena of the Kaonde people, who attended a session in Solwezi, says “I’ve discovered so many preventive measures that we can put in place. Information is key. As much as there’s no cure, we’re going to combat this using correct information and messaging.” He is confident that his subjects will take action to protect themselves.

We are one community and the messages are trickling down. We needed this kind of training and we appreciate it very much.” – Chief Mumena

JSI's USAID DISCOVER-Health project is working with community chiefs in Zambia to deliver COVID-19 prevention messaging to their communities.

Mr. Kamanga opens the sensitization session Lusaka Province.

JSI's USAID DISCOVER-Health project is working with community chiefs in Zambia to deliver COVID-19 prevention messaging to their communities.

IEC Materials used during the sensitization sessions.

MOCTA has supported this effort from the outset. Ms. Yande P. Mwape, MOCTA’s Permanent Secretary, encouraged all the provincial permanent secretaries to join the sessions across the country. “I’m hoping that the chiefs will get the message about COVID-19 and share it with their people. I’m sure it’s a welcome initiative that will really help the chiefdoms in sensitizing their subjects.” 

Mr. Bright B. Nundwe, Permanent Secretary for Copperbelt Province, opened a session thereby highlighting the importance of engaging at a community level.

My Ministry is optimistic that the traditional leaders will ensure actionable mechanisms are put in place…they also expect that this exercise will use the existing community-trusted structures at chiefdom level for effective delivery.” – Mr. Bright B. Nundwe

USAID DISCOVER-Health continues to work with MOCTA and the House of Chiefs to overcome some of the COVID-19 response challenges in rural Zambia. The project has connected the chiefdoms to Zambian Partners Against COVID-19, a group of private and public sector organizations. A key challenge has been how chiefs can spread the word to the remotest parts of their chiefdoms when there are limitations on travel and large gatherings. The project has linked the chiefdoms with partners providing air time on local TV and radio stations to convey messages. MOCTA and MOH have established a mapping system to identify chiefdoms at high COVID-19 risk to help target efforts, support, and resources. 

Luapula province chiefs holding their UNICEF COVID-19 chitenge.

The chiefdoms’ COVID-19 response will succeed thanks to the commitment of the chiefs to safeguard the health of their people. Partners who want to support this effort are welcome to reach out to the House of Chiefs and MOCTA. Areas needing support include the provision of basic preventive supplies, including face masks and soap, for people to protect themselves at home, especially in rural areas where poverty levels are relatively high; and printing and distribution of MOH-approved local language COVID-19 materials to reinforce messaging. 

The chiefs have returned to their chiefdoms and are communicating accurate and timely information about COVID-19. With the committed and respected leadership of the traditional leaders and input from key stakeholders and partners, USAID DISCOVER-Health is confident that the chiefdom COVID-19 response will help Zambia to effectively respond to the COVID-19 emergency.