Knowledge Dialogues with Aymara communities in Achacachi, Bolivia, address doubts on COVID-19 vaccines

24 Oct 2022
taller madres Achacachi

Achacachi, Bolivia, October 2022 (PAHO)- Workshops to address doubts on COVID-19 vaccination are being held in the Municipality of Achacachi, in the department of La Paz, Bolivia, with Aymara-speaking community leaders, young people, and mothers.

These sessions launched in August, applying PAHO’s knowledge dialogues methodology, provide a space to exchange personal experiences about COVID-19 vaccines, identify why some of the population is reluctant to immunization, and agree on actions to solve doubts about vaccines.

The workshops are part of “Vacuna Acción,” a communication and community mobilization initiative launched by the National Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI), under the Ministry of Health and Sports, with the support of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) through its project "Providing Access to COVID-19 Vaccines to Vulnerable Populations in the Americas", funded by the Government of Canada.

The initiative contributes to the COVID-19 and regular scheme vaccination efforts in prioritized municipalities, providing local actors with optimal conditions for communication and community participation.

The program is being developed in coordination with the EPI of the Departmental Health Service (SEDES) of La Paz and local actors in the municipality of Achacachi, as part of awareness-raising activities with Aymara-speaking populations on the importance of vaccines and the benefits they provide.

The knowledge dialogues began in August with community authorities and continued with community groups of young people and mothers.

PAHO's knowledge dialogues are "a powerful tool for all people to communicate, to get to know each other and to consider the feelings and perceptions of others, as well as their expectations," according to a publication that addresses this PAHO methodology.

“The knowledge dialogues require a horizontal exchange; thus, democratic intercultural flow between the parties is fostered in these spaces. Dialogues do not work if there is mistrust or prejudice,” the authors explain.

The methodology has been implemented to listen from local actors in Achacachi  on the concerns, doubts and beliefs about the vaccine, to learn about experiences on COVID-19 immunization and, during the exchange, provide evidence-based information on the benefits of vaccines and the disadvantages of non-vaccination.

"People became sensitive about what happened after vaccination and had fever or pain that made them afraid. In my case, I have had three vaccinations, and nothing has happened to me. I was calm", said one of the participants.

Another one acknowledged the influence of other people in the process of deciding whether to vaccinate or not. One mother mentioned that her children received information from the teachers so that they would not be vaccinated. “The teachers made my children afraid. They told them they could die, and my son no longer wants to vaccinate," she said. 

Knowing these experiences makes it possible to understand in-depth personal experiences about vaccines and to explain how vaccines are developed, and their safety and efficacy, and thus to generate confidence in the COVID-19 immunization process.

The participants expressed the importance of informing the population about the importance of the different vaccines and the latent risks of a disease outbreak, and called for immediate communicational actions to urge the population, especially mothers and fathers, to take their children to health centers to receive free vaccines.

These activities are carried out in coordination with the municipal government authorities, the municipal director of Health, Yelsin Castañeta, the staff of the Omasuyos Network Coordination in charge of public health professionals, Néstor Gómez and Delia Valeriano, the Municipal Health Director, Roger Ventura, the director of the Health Center, Gabriela Chipana, the head of the Health Center Programs, Gladys Mamani, the quality manager Tania Ignacio and PAHO, through external consultants.