Door-to-door visits help boost vaccination rates

Outreach volunteers support members of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities to protect themselves and their families against COVID-19

Leonora Aliu
Door to door visits
25 November 2021

Ferizaj, October 2021 – Nadire Brahimi, 48, lost her livelihood during the COVID-19 pandemic. As soon as Kosovo went into lockdown in March 2020, she was laid off as a maintenance worker in a restaurant. As the months passed, she found it increasingly hard to provide for her family of five and care for her elderly mother-in-law, aged 75.

“It was a very difficult, challenging period. I also had a loan and I didn’t know how to pay it,” she said.

Nonetheless, she was not so much afraid of the financial problems as she was of the virus.

“When I washed my mother-in-law, I wore gloves and masks, because she is very old. I was afraid somebody would die from the virus,” Mrs. Brahimi, who is part of the Roma community living in Ferizaj, recalled. “But thankfully, we didn’t get COVID, because I don’t know what we would have done.”

Mrs. Brahimi, like many of her peers from the Roma community, does not have a formal education. It has been difficult for her to access reliable information about the COVID-19 virus and the vaccine.

“My daughters read the news to me, and what was written on social media. We heard all kinds of things. They said a lot of people are dying. Some said you won’t be able to have children if you are vaccinated,” she said.

Nadire Brahimi

With so much misinformation and rumours circulating in the community, providing reliable and factual information was essential to encourage Mrs Brahimi and others in her community to get vaccinated.

These facts reached them thanks to door-to-door campaigns conducted by community volunteers who are engaged and trained by local NGOs that work with Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities..  

The goal of this initiative is to provide information and raise awareness on the importance of COVID-19 vaccination among marginalized and vaccine-hesitant groups in Kosovo.. The campaign is implemented by UNICEF Kosovo, in partnership with trusted community-based organizations, with the generous financial support of the USAID is taking place in 14 municipalities in Kosovo.

Rifadije Guci dhe Bahrije Rrahmani

Within two months, volunteers like Rifadije Guci and Bahrije Rrahmani managed to reach 1,825 members of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian community with critical information in the municipalities of Ferizaj, Lipjan, and Shtime. As a result of the campaign, around 550 persons from this community received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Mrs. Brahimi’s family was one of them.

“I took the vaccine as soon as I could. When the girls [volunteers] came to my house, they told us everything about the process and what the vaccine really is. And we immediately got the vaccine because we were so afraid one of us would get sick, and we felt much better,” she said.

Rifadije Guci, 21, knows very well that many people in her community are illiterate, and getting accurate information can be a challenge for them. Ms. Guci herself dropped out of elementary education because of a lack of financial support.

“Most of them told us they were afraid of being vaccinated. They said they had heard that it causes infertility, and they would ask us ‘Have you been vaccinated yourself, since you are telling us to take the vaccine?’

“There were times when we had to go up to five times to a family until they were convinced to be vaccinated.”

She added that she often had to provide evidence to the families that she had been vaccinated too.

Besart Jashari

Ms. Rrahmani, 18, who is studying to be a legal assistant, heard similar stories.

“It happened very often that we went to them and told them we have been vaccinated and we are younger than you, so what is stopping you from taking the vaccine? And we noticed that they don’t know a lot about the vaccine. We worked very hard, but it was a good feeling because its results were positive and led to so many seeking to take their vaccines,” she said.

Barriers for being vaccinated among the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities often extend beyond the lack of information or awareness of the importance of the vaccination. Their socio-economic situation  is often precarious, therefore any cost related to vaccination, such as transportation costs to the go to the vaccination center, may present a big barrier for a significant part of this community.

In coordination with municipal health centers, the outreach workers systematically organize transport and vaccination events in the community, thus improving the access to vaccination services locally.

Dr. Hasan Shatrolli

Dr. Hasan Shatroli, the coordinator of the main COVID-19 vaccination centre in Ferizaj, said he set up mobile vaccination centres in Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian neighbourhoods, so people could easily access vaccines. Awareness-raising lectures were also conducted in the communities.

“Since vaccination started, we have administrated a total of over 100,500 vaccines in Ferizaj. On September 15 and 16 alone, we vaccinated a total of 775 citizens of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities. A large part of those vaccines was administered in the field,” he said.

Besart Jashari was the leader of the volunteers in the three municipalities of Lipjan, Shtime, and Ferizaj. He said that volunteers established trusting relationships with community members, so much so that they were asked to make their vaccination appointments.

“It is a bit difficult to work with our community because social media has enabled a lot of myths to be shared. We explained the role of the vaccine to them, and told them that it would make it easier for them to fight the virus even if they contract it,” he said.

Mrs. Brahimi has a message for all of her community members.

“The feeling of comfort and safety alone is a reason enough to be vaccinated. I was very afraid. But I am not anymore ever since I got the vaccine.”