Communication Breakdown: Lessons from Tunisia’s Second Wave of COVID-19, 2020


In mid-2020, Tunisia stood out as a star within its region. The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic had taken a high toll in the Middle East and North Africa. But by the end of the second week of August, as the first wave ebbed, Tunisia had recorded 149 cumulative cases per million people—compared with more than 800 per million in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and most of the rest of the region. Tunisia’s epidemic curve was almost flat. However, the good news was short-lived. By mid-August, the number of COVID-19 cases had started to rise, and by October the number of cases per million in Tunisia matched that of other countries in the area. A year later, Tunisia was a regional hot spot. This case study profiles the difficulty of containing the spread of disease when local governments are new and have limited capacity, when public health guidance from a national government modulates or weakens, and when political distrust runs high.

Mariam Ghanem and ISS staff researched and wrote this case based on research conducted during May, June, and July 2021. Case published January 2022. This case study was supported by the United Nations Development Programme Crisis Bureau as part of a series on center-of-government coordination of the pandemic response.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or the UN Member States.

public trust
crisis response
disease control
Focus Area(s)
Pandemic Response
Critical Tasks
Core Challenge
Trust and legitimacy
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Mariam Ghanem and ISS Staff