The Community Awareness on COVID-19 (COMA–COVID-19) is a Durban University of Technology (DUT) staff-led initiative that seeks to create awareness and empower communities on COVID-19.

The programme is led by Dr Sabiu Saheed who is a Senior Lecturer from the Department of Biotechnology and Food Sciences. Dr Saheed’s team on the project includes Professor FM Swalaha, Johnson Z, Abiola Abdusalam, Bodien M, Mbamali S, Nyawose Z, Ngubane S, Zinhle MP, and Olwethu M.

COMA–COVID-19 was launched in June 2020.

Giving a brief background on the programme, Dr Saheed said: “The initiative was founded on the need to assist our immediate communities against the ravaging and devastating impacts of SARS-CoV-2 as witnessed at the inception of the COVID-19 outbreak in December 2019 through 2020 and to date.”

Throughout the programme, the COMA–COVID-19 has provided critical information to communities on the basic aspects of viral infections and immunity, including the prevention and reduction of transmission of COVID-19.

Initially, the project was hosted online. The concept was well-received by the community, with over 600 students participating in this initial phase. Thereafter, when COVID-19 restrictions were less severe, Dr Saheed and his team visited high schools in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province. To date, the team has visited 15 schools in the province. The visits included education on COVID-19 and its transmission, the need for vaccination, and the distribution of DUT-branded sanitisers and facemasks.

COMA–COVID-19 initiative was selected as one of the top projects initiated by staff during the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Innovation and Engagement (DVC RIE): Community Engagement Showcasing and Pitching Awards 2020. The team won a cash prize of R2500, which they have used to fund the purchase of personal protective equipment and aids for the COMA–COVID-19, as well as weight scales for their upcoming initiative.

Dr Saheed said the team will tackle other health awareness campaigns. “We have just recently introduced wellness and health campaign on BMI (body mass index) for high school students,” he added.

Dr Saheed also highlighted how their ventures not only tackle the third Sustainable Development Goal (ensuring good health) but align with the DUT’s ENVISION2030.

In support of the initiative, Ms Phumzile Xulu, the Community Engagement Practitioner at the DVC RIE Engagement Office said that informing communities about the health risks posed by COVID-19, as well as measures they can take to protect themselves, is key to mitigating the spread and reducing the likelihood that people will become infected by the virus.

“It is important that health practitioners can provide accurate, timely, and frequent information to the people to enable them to make decisions and adopt positive behaviours to protect themselves and their loved ones from diseases such as COVID-19. Information is the most important resource to enable communities to make informed decisions on how to take care of their health and to prevent rumours and misinformation,” she said.

Pictured: The COMA–COVID-19 Team during school visits in the KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Tracy Khuzwayo

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