Written by: Rassidatou Konaté, Student, Bloomberg School of Public Health
Guinea recorded its first cases of COVID-19 in March 2020. At that time, little was known about the novel virus. A dearth of information fueled uncertainties, which in turn provided fertile soils for misinformation to thrive. With the lessons of responding to Ebola fresh in the minds of Breakthrough ACTION staff, Breakthrough ACTION knew it had to work quickly and closely with communities to not only debunk false information, but also to provide accurate information.
Breakthrough ACTION, the National Agency for Health Security of Guinea (ANSS), and the One Health Platform (OHP) promptly formed a consortium to chart a course of action, starting with Breakthrough ACTION’s support of ANSS’ communication focal points (CFP) in the planning and implementation of a series of community dialogues. These dialogues served as a platform for conversations, suggestions, and capacity building, as well as combating misinformation and rumors, raising awareness about COVID-19, and encouraging the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine.
To help CFPs lead more effective community dialogues, Breakthrough ACTION developed the COVID-19 Vaccine Community Dialogue Guide. Because successful dialogues are rooted in a deep understanding of local conditions, the guide was developed based on extensive feedback from the CFPs. Barely three months later, Breakthrough ACTION led a virtual session to train the CFPs on the effective use of the guide during the community dialogues they would lead.
Within a month, the CFPs set out to health districts, accompanied by local health officials and district-level ANSS representatives to launch these community dialogues. Each community dialogue brought together 20–25 participants from the community (including women, youth, men, and traditional and religious leaders), grassroots community organizations, and local nongovernmental organizations.
I was already informed, but today I am even more informed. I have tools now to convince people and bring them to their senses so that they accept the COVID-19 vaccine.
~ Touma Zakaria, Health Worker from Friguiagbe
These sessions created an opportunity to understand community members’ reluctance to commit and adhere to COVID-19 vaccine recommendations. The sessions focused on deconstructing and dispelling the rumors that fuel vaccine hesitancy, providing accurate information, and providing participants with knowledge and tools to combat rumors in their own communities. CFPs created a space for participants to share testimonies about how they were able to deconstruct COVID-19 vaccine rumors in their communities, empowering them to relay their newly gained, or reinforced, knowledge to their communities and contribute to promoting uptake of the vaccine.
Because of Breakthrough ACTION’s strong relationship with the ANSS and the OHP, it managed to organize 30 community dialogues in once-hesitant communities across the regions of Boké, Kindia, and Nzérékoré, reaching 637 participants.
It’s true that we’ve done a lot of training on vaccination since the pandemic, but there were always concerns on the ground. There are populations who revolted, especially against Pfizer for children. In schools, many children fled to avoid receiving the vaccine and their parents supported them in doing so. Every time the parents came to us to protest vaccination for their children, it was very difficult to make them understand that the child must be vaccinated, and that the vaccine is good for the child. However, with the arrival of this mission and through the community dialogues, I now have the answers and tools to convince the parents.
~ Mami Therese Bamba, a nurse in Friguiagbe
Having witnessed the tangible outcomes of these community dialogues, community members and leaders across the regions made strong commitments to promoting greater community engagement to dispel rumors and increase demand for the COVID-19 vaccine.
In Baguinet, participants committed to accept the COVID-19 vaccine and raise awareness while promoting the importance of COVID-19 vaccination in the community. Participants in Bhéta pledged to conduct door-to-door awareness-raising activities in all villages through teachers and community liaisons. Religious leaders who participated in the community dialogue committed to disseminating information about the vaccine and promoting it through their faith-based communities. They also invite their followers to attend their services with vaccination kits. In Diarraguerela, participants urged greater engagement, awareness, and information sharing from local authorities. They expressed their hopes that authorities will continue making the vaccine available to prevent shortages, promoting educational messages encouraging people to get the second dose of the vaccine for full vaccination, as well as the enforcement of mask-wearing, physical distancing, and hand hygiene to protect the health of everyone.
We are very grateful to the Breakthrough ACTION Project for its technical and financial support in organizing this community dialogue, which helped us learn about the benefits of taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
~ Mr. Nyan Konan Kpamy, first vice mayor of the commune of Bounouma
These commitments provide a strong testimony for the positive impact of the community dialogues in each locality and carry tremendous potential for effectively fighting COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Breakthrough ACTION, in collaboration with ANSS and OHP, will continue supporting community dialogues to further the fight against COVID-19.