Community mobilizers and visual materials encourage people to accept live-saving COVID jabs
Creating awareness and dispelling fear about COVID-19 vaccines in Yambio
How to convey information to every person in South Sudan about the arrival of the COVAX supplied COVID-19 vaccines?
The only effective way to reach the population with lifesaving messages in South Sudan is through the efforts of the Information and Communication Mobilizers Network (ICMN), an initiative started in 2018 by UNICEF with the Ministry of Health. Social mobilizers are active throughout the country and share important life-saving messages on health, nutrition, education and child protection. You can see them on foot and on bikes with their blue hats and ponchos, determined to reach even the most remote community.
COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Yambio in early June this year. At first, the negative rumours about the vaccine left the vaccination lines empty, but that changed quickly as the social mobilizers managed to convince people about the benefits of the vaccines.
“In the beginning, people were scared. That has now changed. We worked hard to get the right information out there.”
The rumours were that the COVID jab would cause infertility or death and that it was created by the devil. Once the community mobilizers started their house-to-house campaign to explain how the vaccine works and refuted the many rumours circulating in the community, people started to line up at the vaccination centres. Involving women leaders in social mobilization activities and community meetings encouraged more women to get vaccinated. Further, radio talk shows, church announcements and health workers continued to encourage people and help ease fears.
On a Saturday morning, social mobilizers come across Victoria Martin and her 12 children taking a rest under the mango tree. Victoria welcomes them to sit down as she knows they always come with useful information for her and her kids.
“Did you know that there is now a way to help protect yourself from catching the coronavirus,” asks Moses Alfred, one of the four community mobilizers. Victoria is happy to hear the news and agrees it is very important that she gets the vaccine. “I am being careful about this virus. I have cancer and I am a widow. I need to be here for my children. So, I must be very careful,” she says. "I will be at the vaccine site when the next shipment comes in August."
The mobilizers do more than bring information about vaccines. They are trusted in the communities and known to help with many life-saving messages. When they convey messages about the COVID vaccine, posters and banners are also shared as visuals can often speak louder than words. In Yambio, hundreds of posters and thousands of leaflets about the COVID vaccine have been distributed to inform people in the communities about the benefits of the vaccines.
The Ministry of Health has been leading the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations in South Sudan. UNICEF together with the World Bank has been supporting efforts by maintaining the cold chain to keep vaccines at the right temperature, raising awareness and conducting social mobilization. UNICEF has contributed financially to the roll-out thanks to thematic funds made available from the global budget and from partners such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Partnership for Education, Japan, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Netherlands, USAID and OCHA.