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Community Information Centres to address misinformation in the fight against COVID-19

by Byron Adonis Mutingwende
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Dr. Jenfan Muswere, the Minister of ICT, Postal and Courier Services has said COVID-19 has exposed how misinformation poses one of the greatest security threats of our time.

The Minister made the remarks while officially opening the Maphisa Community Information Centre in Matebeleland South Province today.

He alluded to the COVID-19 media briefing on 6 August 2020, where the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus highlighted how misinformation is spreading faster than the virus itself.

In his address to the World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2020, on 28 July 2020, POTRAZ Director-General, Dr. Gift Machengete echoed the same sentiments when he chronicled how the world has seen the emergence of many “internet doctors’ who are churning out COVID-19 prescriptions on social media, some of which could turn out to be harmful to the unsuspecting public. 

Dr. Muswere said the government has an obligation to ensure that citizens are protected from this barrage of misinformation by providing the public with facilities where they can access reliable, evidence-based information.

“This is where Community Information Centres come in. By visiting the CICs, members of the public can access reliable information on COVID-19 published by the WHO and our own Ministry of Health and Child Care. Community Information Centres enable local communities to have access to Information Communication Technology (ICT) services at affordable rates.

“My Ministry will, therefore, spare no efforts in operationalising as many CICs as we can, during this Pandemic, whilst at the same time staying within the confines of the lockdown regulations. This way, we will ensure that more Zimbabweans are kept informed of the Pandemic and have access to other ICTs services, during this Pandemic,” Dr. Muswere said.  

The government is committed to the attainment of a digital economy and a knowledge society hence supports the thrust by POTRAZ to bridge the digital divide through the different programmes the Regulator is undertaking, to ensure that those in remote rural areas of our country have access to ICTs, with the Community Information Centres being one such programme.

“As government, we will continue to provide an enabling environment for the growth of the telecommunications sector and maintain the trajectory which we started in 2008 which has seen the mobile penetration rate rising to 94.2%, from the 10.4% recorded in that year. Internet penetration rate has also been consistently growing over the years and currently stands at 59.1 % up from the 1.3% recorded in 2008. A similar growth trajectory has also been witnessed in the deployment of infrastructure with a total of 6863 base station sites having been constructed countrywide by the different Mobile Network Operators and the Universal Services Fund.”

Speaking on behalf of the POTRAZ Director-General, Dr Machengete, the Deputy Director, Mr Alfred Marisa said Community Information Centres are strategic in the fight against COVID – 19 as they give communities access to accurate information about the deadly Corona Virus – how to avoid contracting it and what to do when one is infected.

He said Community Information Centres also provide platforms for students to conduct online lessons so that they are not left behind in their studies.

Furthermore, the business and farming communities can take advantage of the new wave of digital marketing and e-commerce to market and sell their commodities on the various digital platforms available. Therefore, through the utilisation of CICs, community members can circumvent the negative effects of COVID – 19 and continue living their normal lives. 

“But alas, let me hasten to say that, while we access Community Information Centre facilities we must all observe the recommended health guidelines meant to fight COVID – 19.  Patrons are expected to wash their hands, sanitise, have their temperature checked before admission and once inside they should observe social distancing while surfing the internet or conducting training and of course keep the face mask on at all times,” Mr. Marisa said.        

The Maphisa Community Information Centre is one of the 146 Community Information Centres established in the ten (10) Provinces of Zimbabwe. To date, one hundred and fourteen (114) of these Community Information Centres are already operational, with fourteen (14) of them providing free training in the use of computers to members of the community. Work is currently underway to ensure that all the remaining Community Information Centres are operational by year-end.

In support of the Government policy to provide access to Information Communication Technology (ICT) and postal services to all the people of Zimbabwe, POTRAZ came up with the concept of Community Information Centres, which are housed at Post Offices throughout the country. In places where there are no post offices, or where the post offices were too small to accommodate a Community Information Centre, the Authority deployed Containerised Village Information Centres (CVICs).

These are basically structures with surfing and training facilities that are modelled from storage containers and strategically deployed at rural business centres for the convenience of village communities. To date, a total of 24 CVICs have been deployed in all the country’s provinces and 5 of these are operational. It is also POTRAZ’s desire to operationalise all the remaining CVICs before the end of this year. 

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