Community engagement and social mobilization are at the heart of a new push to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake in Haiti, with the support of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).
Despite efforts to make the COVID-19 vaccine available and free to all, more than a year after the first doses arrived, Haiti still registers one of the lowest vaccination coverage rates in the world.
By September 2022, 17 countries and territories in the Americas had reached the goal of vaccinating at least 70 percent of their inhabitants. Today, only 1.9 percent of the Haitian population had received the first two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Successive political and social unrest, widespread security threats, logistical challenges, an earthquake and reported high levels of hesitancy around the vaccine prevented the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) from achieving its immunization goals.
In this new chapter of the national vaccination campaign, the National Coordination Unit of the Ministry’s Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) launched in June this year an initiative to intensify vaccination operations against COVID-19. Efforts started in two of the country’s 10 departments (Nord, Nord-Est) and continue in another four (Grand’Anse, Nippes, Sud and Centre). Risk communication and community engagement are key strategies to overcome information and perception barriers, and increase vaccine uptake across Haiti.
This effort, which includes information-sharing activities to increase people’s knowledge around vaccines and community engagement dialogues to improve confidence in vaccination, is orchestrated by the national Departmental Health Directorate with the technical support of communication specialists from PAHO/WHO and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“The success of this new phase of the COVID-19 immunization campaign is based on outreach work made possible by the Agents de Santé Communautaires Polyvalents (Community Health Workers) who go door-to-door to sensitize and mobilize the population to get vaccinated,” explains Kadebe Blam, a PAHO/WHO consultant working as part of the STOP program, a 24-year-old initiative fostered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States, WHO and UNICEF to train international public health consultants to support the national EPI of selected countries.
In each department, advocacy meetings have been organized to inform religious leaders, representatives of administrative and political bodies and media associations on the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine, and garner their support during vaccination efforts so people know that vaccines are safe and effective.
Messages promoting COVID-19 vaccination and interactive radio programs were broadcast across multiple radio stations. Also, sound trucks and town criers use megaphones to announce the arrival of vaccination teams and spread messages about the benefits of vaccines. Communiqués were disseminated in places of worship and at community meetings organized by each health institution.
“The role of the town criers as integral members of the vaccination teams and the commitment of religious leaders has been essential in mobilizing the population,” Blam adds.
“To get people to accept the COVID-19 vaccines, we went door to door to raise awareness. Some people were worried about the side effects, but I was able to convince them that the vaccine is safe, and they agreed to be vaccinated. With our sensitizations, many people got vaccinated”, said Taxemanie Alcime, a Community Health Worker from the health center of Tilory, a border community in the north of Haiti.
Provisional vaccination data collected in the six departments show that the number of people who received at least one dose of vaccine has risen from 188,584 to 358,95 since the start of this new phase of the vaccination campaign, in June 2022.
The campaign should be extended in the coming months to the Nord-Ouest, Artibonite and Sud-Est departments.
PAHO continues to support Haiti to facilitate the storage and handling of COVID-19 vaccines by strengthening the country’s cold chain capacity. With the financial support of the United States, PAHO is procuring a walk-in cold room with temperature monitoring devices to keep vaccines within the recommended temperatures at the Program for Essential Medicines and Supply (PROMESS), that is the main source of essential medicines and medical supplies in Haiti.
Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization
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