Using PAHO methodologies, intercultural meetings known as “knowledge dialogues” between health staff, community leaders, teachers, traditional doctors and local families were vital in establishing trust and discussing fears openly, while still highlighting the importance of traditional doctors and the benefits of local remedies.
Liaising with the local media, including 10 community radio stations and sharing PAHO training guides on “how to report on COVID-19” was also key in debunking conspiracy theories and unfounded concerns.
Eliana Irusta, a media consultant at Andean Rural Health Care, understood the magnitude of the challenge when she visited remote communities in the region of the Moseten people: “due to the lack of electricity in the area, few homes have TV or internet, so information travels from person-to-person.”
The production of several radio “micro-programs” was especially important in relaying information to homes with battery-powered radios.
As a result of these efforts, the campaign reached around 200,000 people. The campaign also resulted in a collective commitment from local authorities to stamp out disinformation regarding COVID-19 vaccines. And in the hardest-to-reach areas of Caranavi, the initiative had another positive effect: vaccinating around 200 people against diphtheria, yellow fever, tetanus and whooping cough.
“It is good that PAHO travelled across rivers and ravines to find out more about the needs of our community,” said Veronica Roca, an Indigenous Moseten leader in Caranavi.
In Bolivia, since COVID-19 vaccines became available in January 2021, the government reports 53.1% of the population received the full vaccination series, with a total of 15,891,936 vaccines administered among its population of 12 million people (including first, second, third and fourth doses).
Vaccination rates in the country have yet to reach the target set by the World Health Organization of providing at least two doses to 70% of the population.
“What we achieved through communication and inclusion was unique – the acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine, and re-acceptance of regular vaccines,” concluded Llanque, PAHO’s partner on the ground. “Health workers also strengthened ties with the Aymara and Moseten Indigenous communities, a partnership that is fundamental and will have long lasting positive effects when facing future public health challenges.”