Multisectoral COVID-19 messaging campaign improving prevention and vaccine uptake in Zimbabwe

Remainder Gunguwu, the Hurungwe district senior community nurse and focal person for COVID-19 vaccination, said the district was meeting its targets largely because of the campaign spearheaded by UNICEF in partnership with GOAL Zimbabwe and Promobile.

By Kholwani Nyathi

A COVID-19 vaccination awareness blitz in Mashonaland West’s Hurungwe is paying off as demand for immunisation is increasing steadily in the district.

Remainder Gunguwu, the Hurungwe district senior community nurse and focal person for COVID-19 vaccination, said the district was meeting its targets largely because of the campaign spearheaded by UNICEF in partnership with GOAL Zimbabwe and Promobile.

With assistance from UNICEF, through financial support from the Health Development Fund (UK Aid, EU, SIDA-Sweden, Irish Aid and GAVI), the Hygiene and Behaviour Coalition (UK Aid and Unilever), USAID, the Government of Germany, and in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the COVID-19 prevention and vaccination campaign utilises highly visual branded trucks and trained brand ambassadors to disseminate lifesaving messages to hard to reach communities. Gunguwu said their COVID-19 vaccination outreach programmes were preceded by grassroot awareness programmes mainly carried out around the district.

“Our partners use mobile trucks to go on the ground a day before we do our vaccination outreach programmes and this helps a great deal in cultivating demand for vaccines,” he said.

“At one point when we went to Gache Gache we managed to vaccinate 887 people in one day and that was a very huge turnout thanks to the prior mobilisation.

“The mobile truck helps create interest in the vaccination programme as they play nice music when they get to an area to draw people’s attention”.

He said the awareness campaigns also promoted health seeking behaviour in the communities and boosted the district’s expanded programme on immunisation (EPI).

“We are on track to achieve our targets for the district for both the COVID-19 vaccinations and the EPI,” Gunguwu said.

“One of the key lessons we have learnt as Hurungwe in this COVID-19 response is that collaborations and partnerships are important in reaching our goals.

“Therefore, we would like to thank the Health and Child Care ministry, HDF, UNICEF, Goal Zimbabwe and all other partners for working with us.”

Gunguwu said the behaviour change campaign was a game changer because Hurungwe had pockets of communities such as informal gold miners and mobile labour seekers where health seeking behaviour was poor.

He said the health education campaigns were pushing the demand for COVID-19 vaccines higher.

Sikhumbuzo Sibanda from Baptism of Fire, a Karoi District Hospital partner in the COVID-19 response programme, said working with mobile trucks campaign helped raise awareness about the disease, addressed community questions and encouraged people to get vaccinated.

“We have been moving around Hurungwe district, including Karoi town, spreading the COVID—19 message,” Sibanda said.

“As you know Hurungwe was a COVID-19 hotspot during the third wave and we lost a lot of people.

“The pandemic has become a reality for most people here because of the difficult experiences and we are doing our best to ensure that we drive home the message that getting vaccines is the safest way to get us out of this tough situation.

Village Health Workers increasing vaccine confidence in communities

Seventy-five-year-old Alfred Yandikani from Kasimure, who was at Karoi District Hospital to receive his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, said he was one of those who were hesitant to get vaccinated, but was encouraged to do so by village health workers and teams conducting awareness campaigns in the communities.

“People in the village were not very sure about the safety of the vaccines because there was a lot of disinformation through social media and I was one of those that were not keen to get vaccinated,” Yandikani said.

“After talking to village health workers, I realised that it is important for me to get the vaccine, and this is why I am here.

“Everyone must get vaccinated so that we can get on with our lives. I want to urge everyone, especially the youths, to get vaccinated.”

Fighting misinformation and disinformation

Shalom Maninga (25), who was also queuing for the COVID-19 vaccine at Karoi Hospital, said if young people were vaccinated, there would be more opportunities for the unemployed to earn a living.

“COVID-19 brought everything to standstill, and I am happy that I managed to get the vaccine,” said Maninga

“I now feel safe to continue with my life and job hunting since I am not employed,”

“Young people must shun unverified information and try as much as people to talk to trusted people that have the knowledge about COVID-19.”

Ministry of Health and Child Care deputy director health promotions Paul Chinakidzwa said the Hurungwe district success story tallied with national trends as coordinated messaging on COVID-19 by the government and its partners had led to a high uptake of the vaccines.

“We work with national and international non-governmental organisations, traditional leadership, faith-based organisations and many others because COVID-19 has gone beyond being just a health problem, it is now a social issue,” Chanakidzwa said.

“We are using various channels of communication to ensure that our messages reach everyone throughout the country.

“We have also ensured that we have feet on the ground for interpersonal communication.

“For the first time in the history of our country we have developed and printed materials in all the 16 languages and Braille for the blind.

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