Bridgetown, Barbados, 27 March 2023 (PAHO/WHO) - The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/ WHO) in collaboration with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and Global Affairs Canada (GOC) conducted Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) workshops with healthcare workers and community influencers from Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The workshops spanned the period March 20 – 22 (healthcare workers) and March 23 – 24 (community influencers) at the Accra Beach Hotel and Spa in Rockley, Barbados.
The training workshops form a key part of an ongoing social marketing for behaviour change project, focused on promoting pro-immunization behaviours among healthcare workers and communities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The aims of the workshops include understanding human barriers to vaccine acceptance, building personal skills to effectively conduct risk communication conversations, as well as the development of community events and messages to promote pro-health behaviours.
According to Ms. Kemberly Gittens, Social Analyst at the CDB, the initiatives were timely as the region is still grappling with COVID-19 and its related infodemics, including conspiracy theories and mistrust that severely impacted pro - health-seeking behaviours. “The evidence is clear – inappropriate health-seeking behaviour is correlated with worse health outcomes as well as increased morbidity and mortality among individuals and, at a macro level, leads to poorer health statistics and sustainable development setbacks” Ms. Gittens commented.
Vaccines prevent more than 20 life-threatening diseases and continue to save millions of lives each year. These preventable diseases impose tangible and intangible social costs on individuals, families, communities, and populations at large, hindering the region’s full achievement of health and development.
“Our region was once known to be a beacon of hope, as immunization programs successfully eradicated and controlled vaccine-preventable diseases” Dr. Solange Kobi – Jackson, Advisor, Health Across the Life Course at PAHO/ WHO recalled.
“Recently though, public trust in vaccination has weakened as a direct effect of misinformation - but, with your help, we can counter misinformation and rebuild trust in immunization” Dr. Kobi-Jackson affirmed.
The workshops were developed on the heels of recent research, which revealed that healthcare workers were regarded among the public as trusted sources for immunization information. Activities proposed by the 59th PAHO Directing Council, to strengthen the surveillance and uptake of immunization in the region, also included the promotion of vaccines through engagement with local influencers from the medical, political, religious, sports and other disciplines.
“There is no more important public health priority in the Caribbean than getting our countries and territories back on track in terms of vaccination coverage” Subregional Programme Director, Mr. Dean Chambliss stated. “Training activities like this workshop are needed to address this critical situation - It is essential that we develop creative and informed health education initiatives, and actively counter misinformation to promote healthful behaviours among our populations,” Mr. Chambliss said.
The participatory workshops consisted of knowledge-building sessions and practical activities, designed to build personal skills and create supportive community environments to encourage immunization uptake in the region. Insights from the workshops will be used to inform the direction of future immunization promotion initiatives.