Take a road trip with UNICEF South Africa’s #TheTruck - Creating strong consciousness in communities to address fears and concerns about COVID-19 while encouraging the adoption of proactive prevention strategies

#TheTruck has taken to the road, spreading COVID-19 messaging by creating community engagement and awareness in high-risk areas.

The wheels of the UNICEF South Africa truck are going round and round. This exciting ‘on-the-road’ and on-the-ground initiative is thanks to valued partnerships with Afrittude Communications, Red Cross, World Vision, and the Department of Health RCCE Technical Working group. Its aim? To counteract the spread of COVID-19 misinformation by creating community engagement and awareness through positive health messaging and videos in high-risk areas.

Our #TheTruck is going places and we invite you along for the ride. 

The backstory

As the COVID-19 second wave swept across South Africa, impacting local communities, our team at UNICEF South Africa realised we needed to up our interventions in high risk and vulnerable communities across all 9 provinces.

But how do you do that at a local level and reach communities effectively and engage personally, proactively and holistically? 

The opportunity presented itself in the form of Afrittude Communications’ digital truck – a mobile multi-media broadcaster, sharing public health messages through video and sound. The public communication initiative then evolved to incorporate an awareness and education campaign alongside the truck with dedicated ground support teams. This meant bringing the South African Red Cross Society, World Vision, and provincial and national Health Departments on board.

The success of the #TheTruck is built on a well thought out approach: the truck only stops for short periods of time in high traffic areas to allow for direct community engagement but not long enough for a crowd to gather. Crowd control and social distancing are also strictly managed by ground support teams.

The itinerary

The routes for #TheTruck are planned by the provincial and district Departments of Health to access hotspot areas and communities that are high risk. The plan involves spending 5 days per province and 1 day in each district.

Phase 1 of the truck’s road trip was planned from 8 December 2020 to 8 January 2021 and included the Eastern Cape, Free State and the Northern Cape with added activations in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal (KZN) over Christmas and New Year. 

On 29 December 2020, the UNICEF South Africa truck arrived in Umlazi in KZN and then moved on to umGungundlovu (Pietermaritzburg) and Kwadukuza, focusing on taxi ranks, shopping centres and testing stations. 

“We quickly realised the truck was an opportunity for local people to own the public space, and help local communities own the COVID-19 response. The truck visit would be more likely to resonate with people and motivate them if the videos were about the people in the ‘priority hotspot’.” – Janine Simon Meyer, Communication for Development Consultant, UNICEF South Africa. 

The truck has just completed a second week in Gauteng with follow-up visits planned for KZN in February before moving on to the Eastern Cape and the North West. 

The messaging

 #TheTruck campaign combines a variety of multimedia messaging formats and relevant content:

  • Original short videos have been created for each province with local people telling their relatable stories of their personal COVID-19 experiences in their own language, with English subtitles and a sign language interpreter. Key prevention messages are included in the videos via frontline and essential service workers – e.g. nurses from overburdened hospitals, a taxi driver in the Free State and so on. 
  • The Government’s festive season “Noko Mashaba” campaign video clips and social media posts. Noko is a comic character well known on social media and his content addressed the high risk of transmission during year-end travel and large social gatherings and celebrations. 

Ground support teams including Red Cross volunteers and/or local community health workers and health promoters accompany the truck and provide basic COVID-19 prevention information through loudhailers, engaging directly in small groups with individuals addressing questions, concerns, myths and misinformation.

Engaging one-on-one allows individuals to ask questions and receive facts and information about COVID-19 which they, in turn, share in their communities, effectively combatting the infodemic, fear and misinformation.   

The result

As the truck rolls into cities, towns and villages, it has been curiously and warmly received by communities. The notable impact of the truck’s presence has been recognised by provincial and local partners who have requested on-going collaboration with UNICEF in disseminating and sustaining key public health messages.

"When we originally considered the idea of a digital truck sharing COVID-19 messaging in high-risk settings, we were looking for an efficient way to connect with and bring information to communities […] and the response to the intervention has been tremendous. More than the clear COVID-19 prevention messaging, it is the real and powerful individual stories that have been so effective in connecting with the public and making a lasting impression” – Pumla Ntlabati, Communication for Development Consultant, UNICEF South Africa. 

The impact of the UNICEF South Africa truck has created a strong consciousness in communities in addressing fears and concerns about COVID-19 while encouraging the adoption of proactive prevention strategies. 

Unfortunately, there is still some resistance to wearing masks in parts of South Africa and #TheTruck campaign addresses this directly, sharing verified information and debunking myths through the ground support teams.

UNICEF South Africa

AS COVID-19 highlights the economic and social crisis we are facing, UNICEF South Africa is grateful for the public support, donations and pledges that sustain our on-the-ground initiatives for every child.

UNICEF South Africa remains proactive in the face of COVID-19 and its continued impact on children, households and communities across South Africa. Through valued partnerships, #TheTruck is part of lifesaving work and is a positive initiative in the ongoing fight against COVID-19. Become a UNICEF Hero by making a donation today

Written by
Toby Fricker
Chief of Communication & Partnerships
Toby Flick
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Children’s Fund