APIFED's team equipped with soap, buckets with taps, disinfectant gel, masks, and posters in the local languages Baka and Bulu to distribute to communities.
2020 forced humanity to recognise our global kinship as people all over the world faced the same threat at the same time. Every society witnessed how the most vulnerable communities were also the most exposed to COVID-19. The same is true in Cameroon where Indigenous communities were not seen as a priority despite their heightened risk. Fortunately, the grassroots organisation Appui à l’Auto Promotion et Insertion des Femmes, des Jeunes et Désoeuvrés (APIFED) has been leading an initiative to raise awareness on the dangers of COVID-19 and equipping communities with tools to protect themselves against its spread.
In areas surrounding the Dja Faunal Reserve, a world heritage site, APIFED has been battling the spread of the virus among communities since the first cases in Cameroon were detected in March. Fleeing strict lockdown measures and high rates of infections, many metropolitan residents migrated to rural areas to stay in villages where they could access traditional medicines of indigenous healers. However, the influx of these city dwellers posed a serious risk to the health of Indigenous communities in the area. When outsiders visit a village, they are closely embraced according to customary traditions and continue to reside in the village where they come in close contact with community members. Villages around the Dja Faunal Reserve were thus providing a perfect breeding ground for COVID-19.
When the pandemic first arrived in Cameroon, many communities believed the virus only affected the urban population. Yet as news spread of cases where people tested positive for COVID-19, community members began to live in fear of catching the virus, particularly given the lack of healthcare services in the area. A heavy stigma settled on those falling ill or testing positive, enabling the virus to permeate invisibly.
Following strict safety guidelines, APIFED distributed protective materials such as gloves and masks, installed hand-washing stands, posted information flyers in the local Baka and Bulu languages, and overall informed communities how to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while decreasing the stigma associated with it. Their efforts largely succeeded in the 42 communities APIFED visited. People began wearing masks, washing their hands more, avoiding close embraces, and limiting direct contact with outsiders in their village.
People being tested by the local health services after APIFED persuaded them to provide testing to forest communities; Baka women waiting to be tested and wearing masks distributed by APIFED.
To further spread the message, APIFED broadcast information over community radio stations in local languages and on the television programme Cameroon Vision on Canal2. Perhaps most electrifying was the song produced by Injection Mutumbu, a famous Baka musician and host of the programme Horizon Baka that airs on the community radio station AKOAFEM. The song, entitled Corona va-t-en or “Corona go away”, expresses the need to take COVID-19 seriously and basic instructions to help reduce its spread. As a beloved and highly followed figure among Baka communities, Injection Mutumbu’s song was regularly played over community radio stations and was undoubtedly heard by thousands of people.
APIFED also mobilised the local administration to extend the testing programme in remote forest communities and has worked with other stakeholders including state agencies, NGOs, religious entities, women's groups, and community-based organisations to spread the message.
While inspiring work is being done on the ground, more is needed to support communities to protect themselves against the persistent threat of COVID-19 and to re-build local economies devastated by the virus. Just as governments around the world are gearing up their efforts against a second wave of the virus, APIFED is waging a similar fight in southern Cameroon. To hear more about APIFED’s work or to find out how you can help them address the impacts of COVID-19 among Baka communities, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORONA VIRUS WÔÔSSÔLÔ (Baka for STOP CORONA VIRUS)
Listen here for Corona va-t-en.
Watch here for the televesion broadcast on Cameroon Vision.
This work has been made possible by generous donors to our COVID-19 appeal and the SOS Rainforest Live fundraiser on June 21.