To increase awareness on COVID-19, substance abuse and MHPSS amongst refugees and those in the host communities TPO Uganda adopted the use of the solar-powered MP3 Audiopedia devices as part of the innovations to ensure continuity. 

The Audiopedia Player was greatly embraced as a more convenient means of creating awareness on MHPSS, COVID-19 and substance abuse in the respective communities.

"We were led into a space to rethink and ensure continuity with resilience. This required developing new ways of working and learning new things. Through technology-driven approaches, innovations like the Audiopedia were birthed and adopted to enable and increase awareness on COVID-19, substance abuse and MHPSS amongst the refugees and host communities."

writes Patrick Samabag, Country director of TPO Uganda in their annual report for 2021. TPO is the leading local NGO offering and integrating psychosocial support and mental wellness into programs aimed at reducing vulnerability. 

"Like other organizations, TPO Uganda is currently navigating a wealth of social, economic and technological changes, including those that have been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2022, we focus on developing and adapting new approaches and interventions like the Audiopedia that ensure continuity of work and service delivery among beneficiaries shall be scaled up."

In the beginning of the project, the content on COVID-19 and Mental Health & Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) was created in the languages Kuku, Madi and Arabi. The messages were approved by the District Health Officers (DHO) of Moyo and Obongi prior to transcribing and uploading them into the devices. During one of the engagement with the DHO and the health centre staff in Palorinya, they alluded low turn-up rate of community members seeking COVID test and vaccination due to fake news, which is why the DHOs tasked TPO Uganda and other partners to integrate awareness on COVID-19 and share the importance of vaccination during their interventions. 

54 stakeholders and staff (41 males and 13 females; target: 50) have been trained on the operation of the Audiopedia devices and its content. 132 focus group discussions (target: 600) were conducted on COVID-19, MoH guidelines and MHPSS. During the focus group discussion, the target group was encouraged to provide feedback on the developed audio content for subsequent adaptation. The Social Workers & VPAs distributed the solar powered mp3 devices to 33 women groups (reaching 392 individuals; 38 males, 354 females; target: 600) in Palorinya Refugees settlement to raise awareness on COVID-19, MHPSS and substance abuse. The beneficiaries were oriented on how to operate the devices prior to handing them over.

During the capacity building, TPO Uganda noted quick acquisition of skills on how to power on, off, increase the volume, and select audio contents within devices. During the distribution, the chairperson and the secretary of the group pledged to monitor the devices on a daily basis from each of their beneficiaries. Each group of beneficiaries are left with the devices for duration of 3 days before the devices are retrieved and passed over to other beneficiaries.

New sets of messages are deployed after withdrawal of the devices. The messages address COVID-19 but also psychological distress evidenced by increased cases of alcohol abuse and domestic violence which was even exacerbated as consequence of the COVID-19 outbreak. Further, local music is included to grasp their attention and further as muscle relaxation treatment therapy. 

By mid of October, 212 (36 men, 176 women) of the 392 beneficiaries reached through awareness messages on COVID-19 got vaccinated. Further, 11 beneficiaries were able to install hand washing facilities as preventive measure against COVID-19, and beneficiaries from two groups reached through the audio contents were observed paying attention on COVID-19 SoPs by wearing face mask and social distancing during their community meeting. 

On MHPSS side, of the targeted 400 individuals to be screened, 224 (37 males, 187 females) were assessed for their general mental health. 13 individuals (3 males, 10 females) were diagnosed with poor wellbeing, depression and post-traumatic distress order symptoms. After the completion of the assessment in October, these individuals will be supported through problem management plus sessions using the recorded therapy messages in the devices. 

Through regular home visits and counseling sessions (case management), 39 psychiatric individuals (target: 80) were referred to the clinical psychologist, to medical assistance or other partners for further intervention. 17 cases of alcoholism and/or substance abuse and 2 cases of suicide attempt were identified. These cases are under management with the alcoholism cases being managed 

Marcel Heyne

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Executive Director Audiopedia Foundation