PAHO and the Ministry of Health and Wellness Conduct Risk Communication and Community Engagement Workshop for Immunization in Belize

Group photo Belize RCCE training
Lisa Bayley (PAHO)

Belize City, June 6, 2024, (PAHO/WHO) – The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Wellness in Belize, this week successfully concluded a vital training workshop on Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) for Immunization for 39 health care workers from the public and private sectors.  This event aimed to equip them with the necessary skills to effectively communicate about vaccines and their importance and ultimately strengthening Belize's national immunization program.

PAHO/WHO Representative, Dr. Karen Lewis-Bell, emphasised the workshop’s significance.  "Immunization is one of the most cost-effective interventions in public health and is a global health and development success story, saving millions of lives every year”, she stated. “However, despite proven successes, myths and disinformation, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to decreased demand and acceptance of vaccination. To ensure the protection of our children from vaccine-preventable diseases, we must rebuild the public’s trust and confidence in vaccines,” Dr Lewis-Bell added.

In his welcome remarks, Dr. Fidel Cuellar, Deputy Director of Public Health and Wellness, stated that the workshop was designed to equip the health workers with the tools and strategies needed to engage our communities proactively and responsively as vaccine champions.   “In today’s interconnected world, the importance of effective risk communication and community engagement cannot be overstated. We live in an era where information travels at lightning speed, and the way we communicate can significantly impact the health and well-being of our communities. Whether we are dealing with infectious disease outbreaks, natural disasters, or health emergencies, our ability to convey clear, accurate, and timely information is crucial,” Dr Cuellar emphasised.

Dr Karen Broome, PAHO Regional Immunization Advisor, gives feedback to participants
Dr Karen Broome, PAHO Regional Immunization Advisor, gives feedback to participants.

The two-day workshop featured a comprehensive agenda designed to address various aspects of RCCE for immunization. The event began with an update on immunization in Belize by Nurse Lilia Middleton, EPI Manager, Belize. Participants engaged in sessions on communicating vaccination-related risks and the role of healthcare workers as vaccine champions. Facilitators also provided insights on communicating with the media about vaccination and conducted practical training on spokesperson skills.

The second day included a session on understanding communication for inclusive behaviour change. Participants also focused on creating value in immunization behaviour change and navigating discourse among marginalized communities. The workshop concluded with project presentations, a wrap-up session, and the distribution of certificates.  Participants described the workshop as extremely valuable and useful to their work and noted some of their main takeaways as understanding the importance of being well-informed to educate their communities about immunisation and the basics of risk communication.  They now see themselves as vaccine champions and welcomed the training in how to handle interviews with the media and conversing with vulnerable populations in a more empathetic and inclusive manner.  This workshop is a step towards enhancing the communication skills of healthcare workers, enabling them to effectively address vaccine-related concerns and improve vaccination rates. PAHO remains committed to supporting the Ministry of Health and Wellness Belize in ensuring the success and sustainability of Belize’s immunization program.