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COVID BASICS

KNOW COVID-19 TO SAY NO TO COVID-19

#IncredibleCollabs | CAC x HOPE - Reaching the last mile

By Meghna P. for #COVIDActionCollab

May 24, 2022

With COVID-19 on the rise again, vaccination against the same is a huge concern for the collective well-being of our society. India’s vaccination drive, which has administered more than 100 crore doses, has been recognized and lauded nationally and internationally as well. But while more than 73% of the population has been administered at least one dose, there are pockets of the country where vaccine hesitancy is still rampant. These are typically remote areas with a very tenuous connection with Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs), and low levels of development. 

Civil Society Organizations (CSO) have organized and mobilized themselves to tackle the issue of last-mile logistics and vaccine hesitancy. One such organization is HOPE – Holistic Approach for People’s Empowerment, a partner of the #COVIDActionCollab (CAC) since the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020. Amidst the First and Second wave, HOPE supported single women and nomadic tribes with relief materials to help them navigate the crisis. In December 2021, together with CAC, HOPE implemented the VaxNow initiative in Pondicherry. 

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Community Based Care & Support for COVID-19

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With CACs technical support, trained wellness facilitators went door-to-door, talking to people and convincing sceptics about the efficacy of getting vaccinated against COVID-19. The need for door-to-door awareness campaigns stems from the fact that awareness drives about the vaccine have considerably scaled-down as more and more vaccinations have been administered. Posters, hoardings and billboards – and the pre-call message on COVID-19 – have slowly receded to the background. This leaves a section of the population vulnerable to the disease. “It was essential to spread the message that even two to three unvaccinated people in the community can become carriers of the virus and that can have serious consequences,” says P. Joseph Victor Raj, Director of HOPE. Moreover, cases of re-infections and even death from contracting the virus despite getting the vaccination have planted a seed of doubt in the minds of the communities. “There was a very popular individual in Tamil Nadu, known as Vivek. He had a huge following. He got vaccinated, but later passed away from COVID-19, which shocked the community, and might’ve spread scepticism about the vaccine.” 

The wellness facilitators went out into the field with protective gear, spreading vaccination awareness among the public in areas where the vaccination percentage was low. “There were printed t-shirts provided to the the facilitators and government officials. This provided great visibility to the program we were running,” recalls Jeyaganesh, CACs State lead for Tamil Nadu. HOPE has come up with creative ways of increasing vaccine awareness, including vaccination drives planned on special occasions like Pongal and Women’s Day. “We also organized a Bike Rally from Pondicherry to Cuddalore, a district in Tamil Nadu. We invited two folk singers, who’d written songs on vaccination, and the Health Secretary flagged this rally off. The rally made stops at colleges and universities, where the singers performed.”

HOPE, having worked with the Pondicherry administration on COVID related drives and projects before, did not face a lot of challenges in implementing the programme. “We have a good rapport with the Director and Deputy Director of the Health Department. We also knew the Health Secretary, but a new person had been appointed when we began this program. Initially, the new Secretary wasn’t as enthused about meeting us, but then they offered their guidance on the door-to-door campaign and provided us with a list of PHCs to cover.”  

Anecdotes of whole communities not being vaccinated because of one reason or the other reminds one how important is the work that organizations like HOPE have undertaken. “The Muslim community in Karaikal was reluctant to get vaccinated. They agreed once we intervened,” recalls Mary Victoria, a senior staff member at HOPE. “The fisherman community in Karaikal wasn’t vaccinated either, We’re planning to get the first dose administered shortly.” One of the challenges that has sprung up is that people are not willing to travel to PHCs. “As PHCs get busy, the staff cannot go for door-to-door drives, and people don’t have the incentive to travel to the PHCs since sometimes they don’t feel welcome there.” She recalls that wellness facilitators have become an integral part of the vaccination efforts in these areas since people have come to rely on these facilitators.

Reaching the vulnerable through vaccine awareness and access is essential to help build their resilience and support them as they #BounceForward. Through our partnership with HOPE we’ve been able to to reach the last mile and continue to support these communities to move ahead from the current crisis.

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