Serviço Municipal de Proteção Civil de Ponte de Sor, Portugal
Influencers have traditionally been known to motivate followers to buy clothes, gadgets, or adopt a lifestyle. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, Portugal’s Directorate General of Health used influencers for a whole new kind of work: guiding people across the country through public health measures in the event of a pandemic.
The Directorate General of Health has identified trusted members of communities, from firefighters, scout leaders and representatives of academic societies to municipal leaders and teachers, to inform and motivate people to comply with the evolving measures of COVID-19 protection. Since May 2020, more than 5,000 micro-influencers have been trained.
By establishing a network of influencers across the country, it was hoped that accurate and up-to-date COVID-19 information could reach everyone, leaving no one behind. The WHO / Europe Unit Behavioral and Cultural Insights (BCI), a new flagship initiative, is currently supporting the Directorate General of Health to evaluate the project.
A human early warning system
The project initially targeted vulnerable groups, such as the elderly in the interior of Portugal, who traditionally have access to fewer resources. However, after significant adoption by interested national associations and other parties, the project has now expanded to cover the whole country.
This network of influencers acts as a human early warning system, capable of disseminating advice quickly and in a very decentralized manner. The Directorate General of Health organized training-of-trainers workshops to build relationships with these influential community figures. They also acquired the skills to adapt materials such as leaflets and workshop content to the needs of the target groups they were supporting.
Micro-influencers shared a range of information with their audience, such as describing symptoms of COVID-19, highlighting health measures and telling people where to go to learn more. One of the great advantages of enlisting their help was their non-partisan nature, and the information they conveyed was followed, at least in part, because it came from a familiar and trusted voice in the community. .
The flow of communication has also been multidirectional, with influencers acting as listening posts or ‘gatekeepers’ in the community. They, in turn, provided feedback to the Directorate General of Health on a range of COVID-related issues, such as the adoption of health measures in local communities and any local concerns about the clarity of information. The resources were then duly distributed by the Directorate General of Health according to needs, allowing a dynamic and reflective response to the COVID-19 pandemic at all levels of public health.
As part of a growing portfolio of behavioral and cultural interventions implemented during the pandemic, the BCI unit is working with the Portuguese health authorities to assess the project and understand where it could be improved, with a view to proposing solutions. recommended to Member States on similar topics. diets for other diseases and illnesses in the future.
A central question is whether the intervention also plays a role in improving health equity, confidence and well-being, especially for marginalized groups. While the full impact of the micro-influencer project remains to be seen, it represents an inspiring and pioneering effort to educate and protect people from COVID-19 using the power of the community.