Women step forward and fill gaps in the fight against the Burkina Faso virus

Women step forward and fill gaps in the fight against the Burkina Faso virus

Tests, vaccines and public messaging often miss many of the country’s 20 million residents, despite a $200 million budget for virus response efforts. In a region where women are responsible for family work and community relationships, they’ve stepped up to provide a collective authoritative voice, make and deliver supplies, and find ways to support their families through the economic crisis. ___

Many guests and listeners in Burkina Faso call her “aunty” as she gently guides them to the answers and awards prizes such as soap and washing buckets. Sawadogo’s voice has become a familiar sound for nearly a million people in her town of Kaya and beyond, northeast of the capital in this West African country, where many feel the government has let them down. Hungry for information about the virus, mothers huddle together outside to tune in to Sawadogo’s show, sharing rare mobile phones while their children play nearby. This story is part of a yearlong series on how the pandemic is impacting women in Africa, most acutely in the least developed countries. AP’s series is funded by the European Journalism Centre’s European Development Journalism Grants program, which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. AP is responsible for all content.

___

“They didn’t help us,” Mamounata Ouedraogo said of officials. “If we expected to get our information from them, we would never have any.” Ouedraogo and Sawadogo live in Kaya, a haven in the conflict-plagued country, where tens of thousands of displaced people have sought shelter as violence that spilled over from neighboring Mali in 2015 escalates. Ouedraogo listens to all of Sawadogo’s shows and said she’d know little about the virus without them. Norbert Ramde, head of Burkina Faso’s doctors’ association, said diseases like malaria are higher priorities — and beyond disease, jihadis are the biggest threat.

“Do you want us to take all the resources to combat COVID-19 and forget about this?” he said. “We have to invest in that, too.” Burkina Faso was hard-hit when the pandemic struck last March, recording some of Africa’s highest infection numbers and death rates. Officials implemented curfews, sealed the landlocked country’s borders, and closed mosques, churches, schools and markets. Residents protested; after a few weeks, most restrictions were lifted. “The priority for the government is to convince the population, not to take some measures which will be very aggressive,” said Dr. Brice Bicaba, the government epidemiologist leading Burkina Faso’s coronavirus response.

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