Solange Bicaba | April 18, 2022
It’s early Monday morning, but Alice Yaméogo is already standing with forty young mothers and pregnant women. She and her team are raising awareness about COVID-19 vaccines. To help convince the citizens of Burkina Faso of the benefits of vaccination, Ms. Yaméogo leads a federation of 67 women's associations called Yeleen, which means "light" in the local language, Bambara. Ms. Yaméogo says the group’s activities are mainly sessions like this one, where she and other members meet with groups in the community to correct misinformation and rumours, and to share their own experiences of being vaccinated. Though the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Ms. Yaméogo remains determined. Her wish for her country is “zero unvaccinated people and zero deaths linked to COVID-19."
It’s early Monday morning, but Alice Yaméogo is already standing with forty young mothers and pregnant women. She’s in the courtyard of the health and social promotion centre in Bobo-Dioulasso, 365 km from the capital, Ouagadougou. Amidst the cries of babies, she and her team are raising awareness about COVID-19 vaccines.
Ms. Yaméogo tells the crowd: “Some ill-intentioned individuals say that COVID-19 vaccines kill or make people sterile. But rest assured, this is not the case. The vaccines are safe. I took the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in June 2021. And here I am before you.”
She says that, in the Hauts Bassins region of Burkina Faso, many people still do not believe that COVID-19 exists.
She adds: “We are trying to explain to the communities in this region that COVID-19 is real and deadly and that they need to be vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
As of April 2022, the national vaccination rate in Burkina Faso was about 10%, and a little less than 6% had been fully vaccinated. Ms. Yaméogo says that many people are still hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19 because of misinformation on social media.
To help convince the citizens of Burkina Faso of the benefits of vaccination, Ms. Yaméogo now leads a federation of 67 women’s associations called Yeleen, which means “light” in the local language, Bambara. Together, the group has organized dozens of vaccine awareness campaigns since October 2021.
Ms. Yaméogo says the group’s activities are mainly sessions like this one, where she and other members meet with groups in the community to correct misinformation and rumours, and to share their own experiences of being vaccinated.
In some cases, the presenters show their vaccination cards to the crowds as proof that they are vaccinated, healthy and well, which is contrary to the false rumours on social media that COVID-19 vaccines are deadly.
The group also encourages those who attend their meetings to continue learning about COVID-19 vaccines by tuning into credible radio and television stations, visiting local health centres, or calling a local toll-free number: 35 35.
Ms. Yaméogo tells her audience: “Don’t trust the misinformation on social media about the COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccination is the only way to protect yourself. People on social media are spreading misinformation that the COVID-19 vaccine has harmful effects such as becoming infertile or impotent—none of which is true.”
Thanks to technical and financial support from UNICEF and the regional health department, the Yeleen association has brought accurate and reliable information to communities in markets, health centres, and even religious gatherings.
Ms. Yaméogo says: “We have visited more than fifty villages and towns in the Hauts Bassins region. We don’t have precise statistics on the number of people vaccinated as a result of our work, but we dare to estimate several hundred, in any case.”
Siaka Traoré is one of those who decided to get vaccinated thanks to the efforts of Yeleen. He has just received his first dose of Pfizer, and with his vaccination pass in hand, the smiling, grey-bearded man sighs with relief.
He says: “I heard that the COVID-19 vaccines kill. Although I am old, I did not want to die. Thanks to the association’s reassurance and advice, I got vaccinated. But I know that I must continue to take precautions, like wearing a mask.”
Dr. Bérimina Goumbane is a general practitioner for the Léna health district and the regional health director for Hauts Bassins. She says: “The reluctance to get vaccinated that we saw in our communities was really fierce at the beginning. But lately, things have been going well. On a given site, we can vaccinate 100 people per day. This is due to the efforts by associations such as Yeleen.”
Though the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Ms. Yaméogo remains determined. Her wish for her country is “zero unvaccinated people and zero deaths linked to COVID-19.”
She concludes, “Woman is the mother of humanity. And as a woman, I cannot allow this disease to decimate my fellow citizens, especially since the vaccine is free.”
This resource is funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada as part of the Life -saving Public Health and Vaccine Communication at Scale in sub-Saharan Africa (or VACS) project.
Photo: A woman prepares an injection for the vaccination campaign against the meningitis at the community center in Al Neem camp for Internally Displaced People in El Daein, East Darfur. Credit: Albert González Farran – UNAMID.