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COVID-19: Community Insights from the Asia Pacific Region - Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Pakistan (September 2020)

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© Indonesian Red Cross (Palang Merah Indonesia)



Communities are key in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Only by understanding how people communicate, what they know, their needs, and gaps in understanding about COVID-19, can humanitarian organisations achieve a community-driven response that will reduce the spread of the virus. Pillars of the humanitarian field have repeatedly emphasised the need to ensure that humanitarian organisations listen to and address the feedback they receive from communities, but they must also look for and support community-driven solutions (Core Humanitarian Standards, The Grand Bargain).

Collecting perception data through surveys is just one of many ways of understanding how communities are thinking, feeling, and behaving around COVID-19. These surveys should be seen as a first step towards understanding community needs better and should be followed up with continuous engagement that actively reaches out to the most vulnerable. Data presented in this report was collected through the Asia Pacific Risk Com­munication and Community Engagement (RCCE) Working Group’s community perception surveys in Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Myanmar. This report aims to present a short synthesis of the results to better understand community needs around COVID-19 and therefore design appropriate communi­ty-based responses.

Data from the community perception surveys are automatically uploaded into an online inter-agency dashboard, which is pub­licly available here1. Organisations and stake-holders wanting to get involved with future rounds of the community perception survey should get in touch with any of the co-chairs listed on the last page of this report. Based on the collected data, the following key actions are rec­ommended. Interpretations of findings and recommendations must be contextualised and triangulated.


  • Stigma is a key challenge in all four countries. Almost half of all respondents in Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Myanmar believed that a specific group is at fault for the spread of COVID-19. Those perceived to be at fault differs by country.

  • Findings suggest that more work on addressing stigma is essential to foster community cohesion and address discrimination, particularly against vulnerable groups such as migrants. Continuing to listen and analyse whom individuals held responsible for the spread of COVID-19 is key to making people feel heard, while also clarifying misconceptions about groups perceived to be responsible for spreading the virus.

  • Awareness of COVID-19 is universal in Myanmar, Indonesia, and Malaysia. However, in Pakistan, nearly 10% of respondents were not aware of COVID-19.

  • Findings suggest that in Pakistan more information on COVID-19 through multiple channels needs to be pro-vided, with a focus on reaching people relying on traditional media and face-to-face communication.

  • Washing hands, wearing masks, and staying at home are the top COVID-19 prevention measures across the four countries.

  • Overall, participants are clear on COVID-19 preventative measures. Instead of blanket messaging that may contribute to ‘messaging fatigue,’ communicators should find out which questions remain unanswered in local contexts and seek to answer these.

  • Information most sought by surveyed communities includes treatment options and what to do if a family member is sick. Additional research and literature emphasises that individuals are more likely to follow instructions to keep others safe rather than themselves.

  • Findings suggest that people are interested to hear about what is being done to find treatments and vaccines against COVID-19. Moreover, the findings suggest that content should give practical tips on how to keep family members and others vulnerable to the disease safe.

  • More than half of all participants shared that they have worries and fears related to COVID-19. The main worries for respondents were around losing a loved one and getting sick (which 73% of respondents frequently worry about). Respondents also reported that they are frequently worried about the health system being overloaded (72%). This shows a significant emotional and mental stress that individuals are facing in addition to other challenges (e.g. economical) and highlights the importance of a response that acknowledges and addresses psycho-social needs.

  • Accessible and localised mental health and psycho-social support are key. Engagement should focus on actionable advice on how to keep family members safe and care for them.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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