Community-Led Action boosts COVID-19 vaccination coverage in five districts in Sierra Leone
Taking COVID-19 vaccines closer to communities
Makeni – Osman Koroma and Agnes Kamara are two social mobilizers who are actively involved in a COVID-19 community vaccination initiative in their communities through the Community-Led Action (CLA) approach. They are on a mission to sensitize and raise awareness with local communities on the critical importance of COVID-19 vaccination.
On this day, they crossed rivers and walked with extreme caution, almost crawling on a makeshift bridge made of ropes and canes to access Sawulia village in the Bombali District, northern Sierra Leone.
“The CLA approach seeks to involve and integrate local community stakeholders like us in community development programmes, including COVID-19 vaccination campaigns so that we could lead and take ownership of the process,” said Osman.
“Since there were widespread and pervasive rumours and misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccines initially, people were hesitant to take the vaccines. Our involvement in the programme has contributed to changing the mindsets of our people because we are part of them and they trust us,” Agnes added.
UNICEF, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), introduced the CLA approach to COVID-19 vaccination in five border districts in Sierra Leone – Bombali, Kambia, Koinadugu, Karena and Falaba. A total of 546 CLA social mobilizers from these districts have been trained and supported to engage community stakeholders, including religious and traditional leaders, teachers, parents and caregivers, market women, etc. to share information on the COVID-19 vaccines, answer questions and discuss any concerns, and mobilize more people to be vaccinated against COVID-19. So far, 469,588 community members have been reached through this approach.
“We were the first to take the COVID-19 vaccines and we did so in front of our community to create trust and build confidence,” Osman and Agnes explained, “We had opportunities to be vaccinated at the community health centres in our respective villages but deliberately decided to do this in our local court barrays (local traditional meeting venues) in front of everybody.”
Osman and Agnes, like other social mobilizers involved in the CLA, served as facilitators in communities, helping them to form smaller groups with each one guided by “champions” who lead actions. These groups develop by-laws and action plans such as the installation of handwashing stations in front of homes which they rigourously monitor.
“Like other community-led programmes that preceded COVID-19, we initiate conversations and engage community stakeholders. Through this collaborative process, we aim to jointly explore the benefits and importance of being vaccinated against COVID-19,” Osman and Agnes further explained. “We are usually the precursors of the vaccination teams; we go to various communities to engage stakeholders two or three days earlier before the arrival of the vaccination teams and this makes their work easier.”
This effective strategy has almost rendered the house-to-house approach to vaccination redundant since community members now meet vaccination teams at designated vaccination points that have been identified and established with the help of social mobilizers like Osman and Agnes. These are either open spaces under trees or local traditional meeting venues.
At Katherie village for example, Osman and Agnes facilitated discussions with community stakeholders on the vaccination process at the court barray so that when the vaccination team arrives the next day, they would meet a community fully prepared and ready to accept the vaccines.
To date, a total of 4,398,972 people aged 12 years and above in Sierra Leone (about 82.5 per cent of the target population) have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The CLA approach has contributed significantly towards achieving this result.
“This CLA approach is very good; it has led to a high turnout of people who volunteer to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as they see that those of us who took the COVID-19 vaccines are alive and healthy,” they added.
As evening approached, Osman and Agnes bade farewell to the community at Sawulia village and prepared to move to another village the next day, where they will again engage with the community on the importance of COVID-19 vaccination.