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Flying News about the Corona Virus

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With the onset of behavioural change messaging to the COVID-19, or more commonly referred to as Coronavirus, IOM and ACAPS have begun to gather and analyse information on the perceptions, rumours, and information being circulated among Rohingya within the camps. The following contains an overview to date of information IOM has collected on the Rohingya’s perception of the growing international pandemic related to Coronavirus. Flying News is a term the Rohingya use to refer to rumours and rapidly spreading gossip. This report will be updated periodically as more consultations with Rohingya community’s on perceptions of the Coronavirus. This version is was released on 17th March, 2020.

News of the virus has spread quickly throughout the camps and already the virus has been jokingly referred to as “moronavirus” (ie dying-virus in Rohingya) because of the severity surrounding it. The global reaction to the threat has generally increased the perception of the severity of the illness and the threat it poses to the Rohingya. However, there is a widespread lack of clarity on specifics related to the illness. The general view of the virus is that it is spreading rapidly and that actions taken by foreign governments have increased the perception that the coronavirus is a serious threat to Rohingya in the camps.

Information in this report reflects the findings of nine initial focus group discussions (FGDs) that captured some perception of the Rohingya concerning the first messaging. This information was mostly capture by IOM Communicating with Communities (CwC) and, to a lesser extent, Site Management (SM) staff. Further information will be added to this report next week as IOM’s CwC volunteers conduct focused consultations across the camps. The below should not be read as a definitive or comprehensive account of the Rohingya’s perceptions on Coronavirus, and it is likely to adapt as the circumstances change and as more consultations are conducted.

Key Findings & Recommendations

  • Information sources are predominantly informal networks on WhatsApp and social media forums. The diaspora community is also channelling information to the camps through social medias like Whatsapp, Facebook, and other messaging services.

  • Information from informal actors and Rohingya-led initiatives are most widely circulated and trusted. It is essential for these actors to be supported with information and materials to conduct their activities so that correct information is disseminated. It is recommended to consider how to equip all Rohingya providing information with better information, this includes diaspora networks and self-organized groups in the camps.

  • A key source of information for Rohingya with less access to modern communications was reported to be Mosques, Imams and religious officials. Mosques seem to be pro-actively disseminating messaging widely and it seems that many people are preferring to trust information provided by mosques because of a generally low level of trust in health providers and news services. However, while they Mosques are generally informing people on how to clean according to Muslim tradition and encouraging people to pray five times a day, a practice that requires ritual cleaning beforehand. There is also rumours and information circulated surrounding prevention, treatment and cures that is not in approved official guidance.

  • Across all respondents, all believed that the virus, should it be contracted, was serious and fatal.
    Perceptions generally placed the virus’ fatality far above its actual rate and it is worthwhile considering the impact this might have should the virus arrive in Cox Bazar or the camps.

  • Influence of religious beliefs and traditions was evident in most if not all discussions and religion was often attributed as the source of the illness. Religious beliefs regarding the virus are heavily influenced by Deobandi schools of thought that emphasis a person’s faith and piousness as the cause behind good and ill fortune. For many Rohingya, Allah’s will and their practice of Islam are intertwined with their susceptibility to the virus.

  • There was a perception that different groups are susceptible to the virus; in particular pregnant women, elderly, and children under five were mentioned by respondents.

  • There is no awareness of how the virus should be treated or tested for. There is also a lack of clarity on how to identify infection and whether there is a vaccine. It is recommended that this information should be included in future messaging given that Rohingya are largely mistrustful when Health facilities only prescribe paracetamol even though this can often be the appropriate course of medical action.

  • It should be noted that the perception of Coronavirus and its impacts are being connected to deaths and illnesses from other causes. Equally, treatments for other illnesses, such as antibiotics, are being thought to apply to the Coronavirus.

  • It is likely that the most common treatment for many people who have the virus – bed rest and paracetamol – will be met poorly by the Rohingya who feel that such actions are generally insufficient in meeting their health needs.

  • There is a clear need to consider how to combat stigma for anyone who is currently sick, ill or potentially suspected of having the virus. Not all people recommended drastic or harmful actions for people who are potentially affected, but the anxiety surrounding the virus has spread to those who are perceived to be affected. Resultingly, there were clear signs that people suspected of infection or the infected will be heavily stigmatized.

  • Unrealistic and unpragmatic messaging containing advice that cannot be implemented in the camps is likely to cause confusion and encourage people to turn towards other sources of information. This is because many people feel that the information is ingenuine and they lack the power to do anything according to official guidance.

  • There is a real concern surrounding Coronavirus and a general desire to know more, but there is also a range of other pressing matters and concerns that are dominating the daily lives of Rohingya that need to be considered alongside Coronavirus related prevention and response work. This appeared in their requests for basic assistance, improved access to water, and other related hygiene facilities at the end of the discussions.

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