It’s Monday morning and the weather is mild in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. The Nabil Choucair Health Centre is alive with the bustle of people going about their day. Away from the crowd is Ndéye Tagui Ndanfakha, president of the Association of Women Community Links, called Bajanu Gox or “Neighbourhood Godmothers.” Mrs. Ndanfakgha is in her office with other association members, discussing lessons learned during the group’s most recent COVID-19 awareness campaign.
Mrs. Ndanfakha and her association are committed to the fight against COVID-19 by raising community awareness. Since the beginning of the pandemic, she has travelled throughout the Northern Health District of Dakar, one of the most heavily impacted regions of Senegal, to help spread information about COVID-19 and break the chain of transmission.
Like the association, its members are called “neighbourhood godmothers.” Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the group focused on maternal health and community relationships. Among other activities, the group raised awareness about maternal health issues, coordinated registration of births and maternal deaths, and mediated couples’ disputes. Thanks to this work, the women are regarded as experienced health volunteers, and respected by the community.
The association is 220 members strong, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, their focus switched to helping their communities fight COVID-19 through vaccination and preventive measures.
The association members spread out across the region in small groups in an exercise they call “caravanning.” During these caravans, the women use large speakers to broadcast pre-recorded information and personal stories about COVID-19. The events capture the attention of passers-by, who often pause to listen.
Mrs. Ndanfakha says these activities have slowly allowed the members of the association to build community trust in vaccines. She credits the association’s persistence, saying that the women have worked to raise awareness every day since the first case of COVID-19 in Senegal in March 2020.
The Senegalese Ministry of Health and Social Action was similarly impressed. In August 2020, the ministry reached out to Bajanu Gox with an offer to support their activities. Soon after, the health authorities trained the association’s members how to fact-check information using the internet, and the women teach this skill in their public sessions.
Mrs. Ndanfakha says the training was much needed. The members of the association often face myths and misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccines.
She says that one myth maintains that the COVID-19 vaccine was created to reduce the African population by making men and women infertile. Mrs. Ndanfakha says the information that her group shares over loudspeakers counteracts this kind of misinformation by denouncing myths and sharing the truth.
Beyond sharing information, Mrs. Ndanfakha wants to set a good example for her community. That’s why, after recovering from COVID-19, she became the first person in the region to get vaccinated.
She recalls getting her first dose of the vaccine Synopharm after being discharged from hospital: “I was infected with COVID-19. But after I recovered, I agreed to be vaccinated because I am convinced that the vaccine can protect people against severe cases.”
Today, the group continues its work and invites fellow citizens to keep learning about COVID-19 vaccines by listening to local radio stations, speaking with health authorities, and learning from the work of other health associations.
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: Ndéye Tagui Ndanfakha on the street as part of an awareness raising campaign.