It’s nine a.m. in Boumonga in the Savannah region of northern Togo. The sun is already shining brightly overhead and villagers are busy filling their granaries with maize. It’s a pleasant scene but, as elsewhere in Togo, COVID-19 still looms large. Many in this community are reluctant to get vaccinated because they think that the COVID-19 vaccine is deadly.
That is why Mr. Jean-Baptiste Lare and four others formed The Youth Action Forum: to raise awareness about vaccination against COVID-19. This morning, they are getting ready to go door-to-door in Boumonga to help reassure residents that the vaccines are safe and effective.
Mr. Lare is the president of the Youth Action Forum in Togo. He was vaccinated in February 2021 and today, he encourages his fellow citizens to do the same.
He explains, “I got vaccinated to protect myself against the virus and to protect those around me.”
Mr. Lare and his team have been committed to raising awareness in Boumonga since the COVID-19 pandemic began. First, they helped their community understand the nature of COVID-19 and how to protect themselves.
He says, “We urged residents throughout the Savannah region to wear face masks and wash their hands regularly. We have even distributed masks to people.”
Now that vaccines are available in Togo, the group focuses almost solely on promoting vaccination.
Mr. Lare says that, when they first started, people were not very receptive to their messages.
He recalls, “At the beginning, it wasn’t easy to convince people to get vaccinated because of the rumours that were circulating.”
He says that people were suspicious of the COVID-19 vaccines because they received false information about them being dangerous.
Mr. Lare explains, “People thought the vaccine would kill them. But with our awareness-raising efforts, they finally understood that the vaccine protects against the virus.”
Issifou Alassani is a public health physician who is in charge of risk management for infectious diseases at the World Health Organization. Dr. Alassani says it’s important for everyone to be vaccinated to avoid getting infected with COVID-19 and especially to avoid severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
The doctor explains, “As of May 2022, about 25% or 26% of people in Togo are fully vaccinated—have received the two required doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Mr. Lare says that door-to-door work is effective in helping to educate people about the vaccines, but public sessions are necessary as well. So, to reach an even larger audience, Mr. Lare and his team work with local broadcasters.
He explains, “Through the radio, and through WhatsApp, we relay information on where and when vaccines are available in the region.”
Mr. Lare says that, in the village of Boumonga, vaccines are mostly administered in health centres. But people are also vaccinated in the homes of local chiefs to bring the vaccines closer to rural people.
The Youth Action Forum organizes school clubs to reach students with their messages, especially about preventative practices to follow during and after school.
Thanks to increasing vaccination rates, there has been a drop in the total number of COVID-19 cases in Togo, and especially in the number of severe cases.
Mr. Lare says, “[Right now in Togo we] record between 1 and 10 cases per day, whereas previously, there were times when we recorded up to 700 cases per day.”
Dr. Alassani says, “These figures prove the effectiveness of the vaccines. The objective today is to get at least 60 to 70% of the population vaccinated.”
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: Jean-Baptiste Lare. Photo courtesy of Jean-Baptiste Lare.