KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 22 June 2012 – Poor hygiene practices and community resistance to vaccination have enabled wild poliovirus to re-surface in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in recent years.
|February 18 2012: UNICEF correspondent Natacha Ikoli reports on efforts to encourage communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to be vaccinated against polio. Watch in RealPlayer|
UNICEF is leading communication and social mobilization activities in the country, working with partners to reach vulnerable communities.
Raising awareness within the population
One obstacle to eradicating wild poliovirus from the DRC is communities’ resistance to vaccination. UNICEF and partners are supporting social mobilization activities to reach out to these communities and explain the importance of immunization.
“We work with religious leaders, NGOs and organized groups, and we designed training sessions for community members involved in social mobilizing to have better arguments and run their sensitization well,” said Astrid Nsunka Muzita, a UNICEF communication for development officer. Communication strategies are extended to include service providers, traditional and religious leaders, and decision makers at different levels.
|© UNICEF Video|
|In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, social mobilizers participate in a training that will enable them to respond to community members' reservations about polio immunization.|
Jeremie Kusunga Mayinga is a Pentecostal priest and a professor at a small local university. For the last year, he has also been a social mobilizer in the Mobisi health zone. Mr. Mayinga is visibly passionate when he counsels families to vaccinate their children, and this helps persuade parents. “I got motivated to become a mobilizer because as a priest and a professor people in this village really listen to me,” he said.
Mobilizers are essential to ensuring vaccination services are accepted by communities. They learn during training sessions how to convince parents to take part in the eradication of polio by vaccinating their children.
“First of all, I tell people why it is important to vaccinate their children. Then I explain to parents who are concerned about the high number of campaigns that as long as there will be polio cases, there will be vaccination campaigns,” Mr. Mayinga said.
|© UNICEF Video|
|Community members listen to a social moblizer explain the importance of polio immunization in North Katanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo.|
Well-planned social mobilization efforts empower communities to take control of their own situations and improve their own immunization coverage. In DRC, social mobilization activities are integrated with other communication approaches to maximize awareness-raising and participation in vaccination campaigns.
But limited human resources and wide areas to covers mean that reaching families door-to-door – often on foot – is an enormous and strenuous task. Still, face-to-face communication is the most effective way to reach families in remote areas where there is often no radio or television, and where trust is always the biggest issue. In person, mobilizers can respond to questions and doubts immediately, which makes convincing community members to embrace immunization more effective.
Ms. Muzita stressed, “All sensitizing and active listening sessions have managed to convince some to accept the vaccination.”
Having community members themselves serve as mobilizers increases effectiveness, as they are more likely to be listened to, and understand how to discuss the issue in a culturally appropriate way. Such strategies need to be strengthened, especially in high-risk areas and regions were resistance remains strong.