Concern Worldwide is supporting the governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia in the roll-out of their COVID-19 vaccination programmes, to reach vulnerable people in some of the most remote regions over the coming year.
This project is part of the EU humanitarian initiative in support of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in Africa. The overall aim is to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines reach the most vulnerable parts of the population, in countries with critical humanitarian needs and fragile health systems.
The Irish humanitarian organisation, partnering with the International Rescue Committee (IRC),will support the implementation of the national vaccine deployment plans in both countries, by providing COVID-19 vaccination information and targeting hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations. The latter include women, older people, people living with disabilities, Ebola survivors, transient workers and people living in extreme poverty.
Funded by the European Union with a Humanitarian Aid grant in each country for a combined total of €2.3 million, Concern and the IRC will provide in particular logistical support such as transport, communications, and data management.
“We are supporting mobile vaccination teams in Sierra Leone with logistical support; staff carrying out data collection, providing fuel for cars and trucks so they can reach remote communities, subsistence allowances for staff to stay out in the field for longer, and rain gear – it rains up to six months of the year here,” said Sarah Cundy, Concern’s national health co-ordinator in Sierra Leone.
“We have even budgeted for boats in some districts, especially those that have large river networks that breach their banks during the rainy season. This is challenging terrain and we want to be able to reach everyone.”
In Liberia, just under nine per cent (8.8%) of the population has been fully vaccinated. In addition to facilitating the vaccination of most-at-risk vulnerable populations, the Concern team will also be targeting health workers and health volunteers, aiming to reach just under 36,000, many of whom work in hard to reach areas that make it difficult to access services.
“We work with health volunteers at community level, to get across an understanding of the purpose of the vaccines and any kind of side effects, because that’s always a big issue,” said Dave Smyth, country director with Concern in Liberia. “How to access vaccines, the benefits of wearing a mask, social distancing and washing your hands frequently, those messages will continue but we will now be communicating them on a national level.”
Concern are also involved in getting reliable, accurate messaging around vaccines to populations of both countries, where scepticism around the vaccine is high.
“There are a lot of common misconceptions that need to be worked on. We need to use our network of community health workers, to get the message across and mobilise people to get vaccinated.” said Mr Smyth.
Vaccine supply is an issue for both countries. Often supplies that do arrive are within weeks of their expiration date, giving little time to get vaccines into arms.
In Sierra Leone, it’s estimated that just three-point-seven per cent (3.7%) of the population are fully vaccinated. For a country where malaria accounts for 40% of outpatient health visits and the last Ebola Virus Disease outbreak, (a haemorrhagic fever virus) killed almost 4,000 people, the severity of the COVID threat is not fully accepted.
“The health impacts of COVID have not been at the level we’ve seen in other countries, there’s definitely something which is not well understood yet, that we haven’t seen the severity of symptoms or potentially the number of cases, although testing is also an issue,” said Ms Cundy in Sierra Leone. “Although people are comparing it to Ebola, they are saying ‘well with Ebola we could see it.”
The programme in Sierra Leone is aiming to reach every member of the population, 7.8 million people, through its communications and awareness plan, by using animation, travelling cinema, radio and social media ads. In Liberia, the aim is to reach 40 per cent of the population (2.5 million people) through radio, community level mobilisation, and by supporting the Ministry of Health’s communications plan.
“A mass vaccination programme on a national scale has challenged wealthy countries, and is an even greater challenge for countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia with less developed health systems and populations living in remote, hard to reach areas. There is a real urgency in rolling out vaccinations which Concern is supporting, alongside the national Ministries of Health, ECHO and the IRC,” said Fiona Gannon, regional director with Concern Worldwide.
In both countries, research and barrier analysis into what is driving low uptake will inform the communications campaigns. In Liberia, Concern and IRC will engage with faith-based groups and leaders across the country, as previous communications campaigns around COVID show they have a positive influence on changing people’s behaviour.
Concern has been active since 1996 in both Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Concern Worldwide provides development and humanitarian interventions in 23 countries across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Haiti.
For media queries contact Eilis Staunton, Media Relations Officer, Concern Worldwide, at email@example.com or +353 85 8720720