Yaoundé – Local leaders, working with more than 2,300 community mobilizers and 1,450 vaccination teams, played a crucial role in the success of a rapid vaccination campaign against COVID-19 that has vaccinated 52,000 people in through Cameroon in just five days in July.
Community leader Jean Calvin Nama-Ntse is working to build confidence in COVID-19 vaccines in Nkomassia and Nkolbisson communities in the capital Yaoundé. A long-time member of the community, he is a traditional chief, President of the Health District of Nkolbisson and Chairman of the Management Committee of the Integrated Health Center of Nkolbisson.
Tell us about the communities you work with?
Here, north of Yaoundé, we have both rural and urban areas. We have over 80,000 people who come from Cameroon and other African countries like Mali, Republic of Congo, Burundi and Central African Republic. With a mixture of different religions, we respect the right to freely practice one’s worship. We are not a wealthy community and most people make a living from small businesses or informal commerce.
What are the biggest challenges in the fight against COVID-19 and the demand for vaccines?
Our population is quite young and although we are generally well informed, not everyone is aware of all the risks associated with COVID-19, so not everyone is sticking to prevention measures or not. not want to be vaccinated.
Despite the flood of information about COVID-19, there is still fear, doubt and skepticism surrounding vaccination. Rumors and disinformation disseminated on social networks and imagined by some people sow doubt and reluctance to be vaccinated, which increases the risks.
What are the key lessons from your work?
In my experience, people who have had the disease or have seen others suffer from it are much more aware of the risks and are much more likely to be vaccinated. If we use more of these people as educators, I’m sure they will increase the uptake of vaccines.
Plus, when leaders get vaccinated in public, other people follow, especially big media figures, artists, and religious leaders. As a community leader, I made it a point to get vaccinated in public.
Placing vaccination points in public spaces such as markets, at crossroads or near churches also builds trust in the community and encourages more people to come for the vaccination.
Tell us about the support you have received from WHO and its partners?
I participated in workshops on how to mobilize communities and advocate and access more resources for immunization campaigns. These were managed by the Ministry of Public Health, with
the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).
I also participated in city council meetings chaired by district health workers. These help us increase the demand for COVID-19 vaccines in our communities. About 300 people have been covered by these trainings so far and more are planned for this year.
From these, we have learned to work more closely in our communities, lecturing on COVID-19 and the need for vaccination in local markets and public spaces. We visited families to speak intimately with them. We have lectured to local associations and worked with local media. We have also worked with religious leaders and local government authorities to spread prevention messages as they are trustworthy and people listen to them.
These days I only use information from reputable sources including government, WHO and of course from my own life experience.