As Somalia comes to terms with life during the pandemic, people are starting to wear masks but can face abuse or criticism when they do.

UNDP’s latest COVID-19 comedy episode – part of a series that has engaged some of Somalia’s finest comedians to raise awareness and help keep people safe – tries to dispel common myths about facemasks and encourage a mask-wearing culture.

“Facemasks have become synonymous with coronavirus in Somalia,” said Abdirahman Heello, the well-known Somali comedian. “It’s become normal for people to roll their eyes when they see someone wearing a mask.”

In this new episode, which has been seen by more than 150,000 people on Facebook in its first week, the comedian, Heello, is seen walking in the market wearing a mask while people run to the side of the road to avoid him, including his friend who steps back and asks, “Why are you carrying the virus on your face?” 

Shocked by his friend’s strange reaction, Heello responds by saying he is not sick and explaining the importance of wearing a facemask.

In developing countries, where huge numbers of people have to go out every day to feed their families, social distancing can become impossible, so other forms of preventing transmission are vital (see here for UNDP’s latest analysis and call for a temporary universal basic income to help the poorest deal with the coronavirus).

Experience from around the world suggests that mask wearing may be among the best ways to contain COVID-19 while daily life continues, but misconceptions about masks have become so prevalent that even those who understand the benefits think twice before wearing them in public. 

“If you wear a mask in public, you stand out and even your own friends make you feel stupid,” said Heello. “But we should not be ashamed of doing the right thing; we have to educate our people.”

In addition to the comedy video, UNDP has also engaged, KALA-MAAN, one of the most popular radio talk shows in Somalia, to push the message out. 

In a fast paced and poetic dialogue, KALA-MAAN’s four-minute drama explores why people don’t like facemasks and encourages them to follow advice from the government and health authorities. 

“KALA-MAAN is our most popular talk show and we have famous comedians, actors and poets in the team,” said Burhaan Diini Farah, the Director of Radio Kulmiye. 

“They speak all the different Somali accents and they understand the cultural nuances of every region so everyone relates to them. They are known for giving out serious messages in a very entertaining and funny way.”

For the latest WHO advice on when and how to wear masks see here

For Somali instruction on how to make your own mask from easily available materials, see here, here and here




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