What Rwandans have held on to for centuries has to be done away with.
The incessant handshakes, the three-times on the cheek pecks, the unnecessary hugging and perpetual spitting can now be forced down the drain of history.H1N1 influenza, also known as ‘swine flu,’ will be the catalyst for this change.
Dwelling on how H1N1 got into the country is not important. It got in exactly the same way like it did in other countries—through the airports. What needs to be addressed is the dynamics of how it can be stopped amidst the Rwandan culture.
How can the custom of greeting with a handshake, hug and peck be stopped for our own health? Just like a programmed robots, Rwandans became accustomed to these habits from the time they were children.
This is our culture that cannot be done away with unless a huge sensitization campaign is passed to the public.
It’s true that there are over 14,000 doses of the vaccine that can curb swine flu; but how many people are seriously aware of the threat posed by this virus? Rwanda’s population is over 10million, most of which lives in rural areas.
Probably, there is no cause for alarm for the village farmer who lives in one of the remotest hills and underdeveloped areas of the country.
Gratefully, these inaccessible roads provide a natural barrier; who would have ever thought that there would be an advantage to this, hitherto, perceived problem? Unless the oddest thing happens and an unknowing relative from Kigali, infected with H1N1, decides to visit his family back in the remote village and then spreads the flu.
If this was to happen, and this is a doomsday scenario, the rural inhabitants would take quite a battering because they are often ignorant of what is happening nationally.
Unlike the developed world, where the media successfully sensitized the public quickly, Rwanda’s case is different.
Inhabitants of rural Rwanda will go about their business digging in the fields or grazing their cattle, without any information because they don’t have access to media.
The probably know nothing about the H1N1 outbreak in Kigali, and will only understand its gravity when the Ministry of Health, and its partners, embark on a massive awareness campaign that cuts across the entire country, most especially in areas that have no access to health clinics.
This sensitization campaign will be quite a challenge in itself, as it will involve urging people to understand why they have to drop certain customs they have been taught to follow since they were children.
The campaign against the spread of H1N1 influenza will require the collaboration of the media, telecommunication and the ICT sectors, the private and public sector to preach the gospel of swine flu prevention.
The author is a journalist with The New Times