By: Antoinette Stafford Cloete (HST Communications Manager) and Lunga Memela (HST Communications Engagement Lead)
Vaccines have been historically recognised and widely used as one of the most effective and reliable tools in the arsenal against disease. COVID-19 vaccines, developed by a number of global pharmaceutical concerns in conjunction with national governments, universities and other key stakeholders continue the public health tradition of utilising research and technology to realise a product that can assist in mitigating the effects of what is one of the biggest human disasters of the 21st century – COVID-19.
The Health Systems Trust is currently partnering with Adcock Ingram to create awareness amongst youth aged 12–17 years of age, and men and women 35–49 years of age, in Umlazi, KwaZulu-Natal, on vaccinating against COVID-19. According to the official South African Corona Virus information site, numbers vaccinated against the disease remain steady, but lower than desired. For this reason, various Department of Health (DoH) structures as well as health system strengthening organisations have pooled their resources to generate awareness on the importance of vaccinating against COVID-19 and other diseases. This is done via active messaging and reporting through Risk Communications and Community Engagement, also known as Social Listening. Every week the participants meet to discuss the latest information on COVID-19 and other public health threats or challenges (currently also Monkey Pox and low routine vaccination rates globally, leading to outbreaks of measles and polio), and to set communication priorities.
It is within this context of knowledge and support that the Adcock Ingram-funded social mobilisation project was conceptualised and operationalised and embedded within an existing HST project, DO ART, which implements and evaluates comprehensive community-based ART (CBA) services to optimise the proportion of HIV-positive, ART-eligible people being initiated and maintained in treatment, and reaching viral suppression within six months. Because of the community-based focus this project was ideally placed to support vaccine mobilisation.
The communication components were straightforward; engage Mobilisers to take the pro-vaccination message to the relevant cohorts in Umlazi, share information on the campaign via radio, social media, posters and flyers, and have an easily identifiable brand.
The team of Mobilisers, also known as Community Linkage Officers, met with HST's Communications Team, led by Antoinette Stafford Cloete (pictured above, with Dr Douglas Ngcobo, DO ART Community Co-ordinator, to her right), on 27 July to engage on the communications' elements during a face-to-face briefing that was held at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital (PMMH) in uMlazi. Members of the PMMH were present as was representation from the eThekwini Municipality, who have been actively involved with project roll-out.
The Mobilisers were equipped with easily indefinable #GetVaccinated bags and regalia, including information packs containing cue cards and posters for actual engagement sessions, flyers and a reporting tool to assist with record-keeping. Over a three-week period, and despite a slow start due to student protests which delayed access to this important cohort, the data has begun to blossom with over 2 000 information leaflet shares, over 200 COVID-19 vaccinations administered, which included first and booster vaccinations, as well as other services related to HIV and TB delivered on.
HST's DO ART Community Co-ordinator, Dr Douglas Ngcobo (centre), shares the spotlight with School Health Co-ordinator: Sister Nosipho Mtambo in the blue shirt behand him; Sister Nompumelelo Nkosi (in the blue uniform, who is a school health nurse as well); along with the DO ART Team that is championing the campaign in Umlazi.
Of the numbers reached through 433 mobilisations, 102 were already vaccinated against COVID-19, which is an encouraging statistic. Despite being vaccinated these individuals were still interested in obtaining further information and sharing it with friends and relatives which shows that, for many, accessing reliable information on COVID-19 is important, despite the proliferation of fake news. Prior to the actual mobilisations starting, three focus group sessions were held with sample cohorts where valuable data was obtained that assisted with the content focus for the cue cards, posters, flyers and radio. The key takeaway was that clear and accurate COVID-19 communication was still necessary in encouraging hesitant individuals to get vaccinated against the disease in order to protect themselves and others.
Highlights from the focus groups held ahead of the campaign launch.
The RAMS (Radio Audience Measurement Survey) shows that we hit the mark in terms of audience reach (15 to 49 years in this measure) based on the shows Gugulethu Sokhela (DO ART Manager) and Douglas Ngcobo (DO ART Community Co-ordinator) appeared on.
This mini campaign ends in September, but the Mobilisers are moving full-steam ahead with a number of dedicated sessions with colleges and schools in the pipeline over the next few weeks that will further bolster the numbers reached with information and those vaccinated against COVID-19.
This project, embedded in HST's DO ART project, with the full participation of the district, showcases how public-private endeavours can be successfully rolled out.
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