Imam Tidiane Djiré prepared to speak, though not to lead prayers in his mosque in Koutiala, in southern Mali. Instead, he was talking to Radio Uyesu about a different topic altogether: COVID-19 vaccines.
“I got two doses of the vaccine, and I never had any issues,” the imam said on the radio program. “I did it because the messenger of God (peace be upon him) told us to protect ourselves against illnesses with all methods that are not forbidden by Islam, and vaccination is not forbidden by Islam. I also encourage other people to get vaccinated against this pandemic.”
Imam Tidiane is not alone among religious and community leaders in Africa in working with radio stations to promote vaccination.
In 2022, Farm Radio International worked with more than 200 radio stations in 16 countries to design and broadcast a 10-week campaign aimed at increasing confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine. Community influencers are essential to campaigns like this. Nearly every radio station interviewed religious and community leaders who could speak positively about the vaccine and convince their community to get vaccinated.
Not all religious leaders have embraced the COVID-19 vaccine, according to partner broadcasters like Sarah Adongo at Uganda’s Mega FM Gulu. Still, they can play a key role in either combatting or amplifying myths about the vaccine.
Even outside religious settings, COVID-19 vaccine myths have been a significant barrier to vaccine uptake in sub-Saharan Africa, as in other parts of the world.
Why should I get vaccinated? Won’t the vaccine make me sick? Is the virus even real? These are the kinds of questions that community members were asking. They’re also the kinds of questions that local leaders and radio broadcasters can help answer.
Promoting the COVID-19 vaccine to his congregation
Kambou Davila, an Ivorian pastor, has been a strong advocate for the COVID-19 vaccine. He got vaccinated to be a role model for his community and even hosted vaccination sessions at his church.
Kambou also took to the airwaves, giving a testimonial about vaccine efficacy on a local radio station, Gbêkê Fm. He had this to say: “I have faithful who come to pray at the church in the evening as well as on days of worship and these people need to be protected against COVID-19. In this sense, I have to set an example, I have to be the model, so I got vaccinated.”
As a community leader, Kambou felt responsible for protecting his congregation from the virus. He is living proof that churches and health authorities can work hand in hand on COVID-19 prevention.
Using radio to dispel COVID-19 vaccine myths in sub-Saharan Africa
During the COVID-19 pandemic, radio has been a powerful tool for disseminating public health information. It’s sometimes the only way to reach residents of remote communities. Testimonials from community and religious leaders reinforce messages from health experts.
Through its VACS project, Farm Radio International connected broadcasters with experts to support them in communicating about COVID-19. We ran 68 WhatsApp discussions, where broadcasters could ask all their pressing questions about the virus and vaccine. Stations also invited specialists and community leaders onto their shows. All in all, the project engaged more than 890 stakeholders, which included religious and community leaders, and experts in health and equitable access to health services.
One such expert was Dr. Hans Bateyi, vaccination program coordinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province. During a WhatsApp discussion, he answered questions about topics like vaccine side effects and the importance of vaccination and other preventive measures. You can listen to Dr. Bateyi below (in French only).
After all, to be able to provide accurate answers to listeners’ questions and dispel lingering COVID-19 vaccine myths, broadcasters need good information — information Farm Radio is working to connect them with.
About the project
The Life-saving Public Health and Vaccine Communication at Scale in sub-Saharan Africa, or VACS, project is funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada. Through the VACS project, Farm Radio International is working with radio stations across 16 countries and in 20 languages in sub-Saharan Africa to support COVID-19 prevention efforts, increase vaccine confidence and further gender equality.