By Fabrice Laurentin, Communication for Development (C4D) Specialist, UNICEF Ghana
Ghana’s last cholera outbreak started in June 2014 and continued through 2015. More than 30,000 people were infected, 250 died. Cholera is spread through germs from feces of infected people that get into unprotected water sources, then through contaminated food and drinking water. Dirty hands are one of the main transmission routes of Cholera, and hand washing with clean water and soap is acknowledged to be an effective ‘do-it-yourself vaccine’.
‘Agoo’ – Providing critical information about Cholera, Ebola, and handwashing with soap
To prevent protracted outbreaks of Cholera in the future, as well as address issues pertaining to other water-borne diseases, and to educate about Ebola, UNICEF Ghana has partnered with the Government of Ghana and the private sector to create ‘Agoo‘.
The multilingual platform offers three distinct services: (1) a call center with trained agents responding to callers; (2) an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and (3) Short Messaging Service (SMS). All services are provided in all of Ghana’s main languages.
The word ‘Agoo’ announces someone’s presence when entering a house; it is understood and used across all communities and languages in Ghana. The symbol of the megaphone has been used to show that with Agoo, information is communicated loud and clear!
A platform to educate and engage
The Agoo platform serves two purposes: It delivers accurate information through an interactive mobile platform about how to protect oneself from Cholera and Ebola and educates about the associated health risks. And it harnesses the power of young people through an engagement campaign to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.
Sing along: ‘If your hands are clean, clap for yourselves!’
The centerpiece of the Agoo information and engagement campaign for young people is ‘Wash Wana Hands’, a powerful karaoke song and dance choreography performed by well-known Ghanaian artists. The key messages contained in the song promote handwashing with soap and information about Cholera and Ebola.
The song is performed by eight singers in nine main languages of Ghana: English, pidgin English, Ga, Twi, Ewe, Dagbaani, Hausa, Wale and Sissala. The lyrics include messages like ‘If your hands are clean, clap for yourselves!’; ‘make the water flow’, ‘call Agoo to know more‘. The karaoke video also features Azonto, a popular dance among young people in in Ghana. The choreography illustrates the gesture of hand washing.
From November 2015, the ‘Wash Wana Hands’ clip and song is being broadcast on major TV channels and radio stations across Ghana.
Mobilizing 400,000 high school students to take action
With the support of UNICEF Ghana, Ghana Education Service took the lead in covering 874 public and private Senior High Schools, in partnership with a pool of 16 implementing NGOs. As result, more than 400,000 Students were mobilized and educated about the benefits of washing hands with soap. Each school received buckets and a box of soap for handwashing. 1,000 banners, 400,000 posters and 300,000 Agoo wristbands were distributed.
At the launch of the campaign, Rushnan Murtaza, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Ghana, said: “While it takes tremendous efforts, human and financial, to tackle Ebola and Cholera, it only takes a little bit of time and effort to prevent this from happening. The answer is washing our hands! Washing hands with soap under running water is actually the most critical action anyone can take to keep healthy – not only from Cholera and Ebola but from many other diseases as well”.
As part of the campaign, students could voluntarily register their mobile phone numbers with the Agoo platform. As a result, more than 200,000 numbers were collected and will be part of the Agoo SMS information campaigns. In the eventuality of a future Cholera or Ebola outbreak, these numbers will also be used to distribute essential information to affected areas.
The partnership behind the platform – give it a call
The creation of the platform is the result of a partnership between UNICEF and MTN, the largest telecoms network operator in the country. While access is provided free of charge to all MTN users by dialling 5100, the service can also be accessed from all other mobile networks by dialing 0540-118-999.