Community engagement: key to reaching more people
Ministry staff often rely on translators to communicate with the indigenous leaders, known locally as “captains” of the community.
Health workers who belong to these ethnic groups often facilitate the organization of these expeditions, as well as the arrival at the various communities receiving health services.
Teodoro López, a Yekwana indigenous person, is one of the vaccinators who traveled to San Carlos de Río Negro, and believes he knows the Amazonas very well: he was born in the Toky community, in the Marawaka parish of Alto Orinoco, and although he currently lives in the capital of the state, Puerto Ayacucho, he has vaccinated people from all 22 ethnic groups of Amazonas during his 24 years of work. His experience goes back to when he accompanied his father, who was also a nurse, on similar trips.
He has visited Yanomamis and Yekwanas in the Upper Orinoco, Piaroas, Jivis and Macos in Manapiare, Kurripakos, Barés and Banivas in Rio Negro and Maroa, and finally in Autana the Barés, Banivas, Piaroas and Kurripakos.
The expedition in September reached 126 communities, and provided a total of 4,406 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, 1,709 doses of oral polio vaccine and 1,450 doses of measles and rubella vaccine.
PAHO is now organizing the third trip of the year to these and other remote communities in the state of Amazonas for the second half of November 2022.
Despite sleeping in a hammock for 15 days straight, amid mosquitoes and humidity, Rosa Betancourt, coordinator of the boat traveling to Upper Orinoco, believes that it is all worth it to reach people who often feel forgotten: "This time we are going to the Casiquiare Branch. It has been over 10 years since any health commission has been there."
She also believes these journeys should last 20 days and not 15, in order to reach Chalbaud, where the Orinoco begins. "Hopefully next time we can go there." A trip that that must be made before the dry season begins at the end of November, when navigation becomes impossible.
PAHO is working with health authorities, local governments and communities to improve equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across the Americas. With funds from the Government of Canada, the United States of America and other key partners, PAHO is supporting projects and interventions to take vaccines to indigenous peoples, migrants, hard-to-reach communities and other populations in situations of vulnerability, while increasing the capacities of local health systems and fighting the infodemic.