By Karl Hofmann, President & CEO, PSI
Just last week we learned of Africa’s successful campaign against wild poliovirus. There are many lessons to take from Africa’s achievement in our fight against COVID-19, and among them is working together to debunk falsehoods to protect us all.
Today, the global scientific and public health communities are working at an unprecedented pace to develop, test and deliver a safe and effective vaccine for the novel coronavirus. I have faith that science will get us this tool eventually—and I also have faith that whoever rings the bell first will make it available to the most vulnerable.
But even then, the bigger hurdle may be: will enough people use it?
The speed at which we are moving to get a vaccine out has created natural skepticism and worry. Who of us hasn’t heard the refrain from colleagues or relatives, “I don’t want to be the first one getting this vaccine”? Misinformation is being disseminated across social media platforms that plays on peoples’ worries, exacerbates existing myths and could retrench years of progress in communicating the effectiveness of vaccines against ancient and modern killers.
Across Africa, where much of PSI’s work happens, false claims and anti-vaccine sentiment are the enemies of an often already weak healthcare system. The situation is further fuelled by a history of controversial drug trials and the specter of experimentation on the powerless.
PSI’s approach is to put our client, whom we call Sara, at the center of our work. That means not making a decision for her, but facilitating her access to the information she needs to make her own informed decisions. We want to make sure that Sara gets fact-based, non-biased and non-political information that meets her where she is.
Our approach is informed by our fifty years of experience; most specifically drawing on what we have learned from our work in other pandemics such as Zika, Ebola, HIV and the ongoing fight against malaria.
We know how to do this: first, we work to understand what Sara is thinking now about this vaccine and put her concerns and information needs at the center of our communications approach. We want to work with partners to develop a broad coalition of support including Ministries of Health, other NGOs and civil society organizations, pharmaceutical companies, social media platforms and some of the 10,000 health care providers who are franchised by PSI across Africa.
Serving Sara effectively in this pandemic will require our best partnering, creating accessible and trusted information, and leveraging all our social behavior change experience across the decades to put the right science in service of her at the right place and right time.
Join us as we put Sara at the center of vaccine decision-making.
Banner image credit: PMI Impact Malaria/Emmanuel Attramah