Public Health and Vaccine Communication at Scale (VACS)

Boosting vaccine confidence across sub-Saharan Africa

Credit: Nebiyu Yetsedaw/FRI

Public Health and Vaccine Communication at Scale (VACS)

Boosting vaccine confidence across sub-Saharan Africa

The context

The COVID-19 pandemic required exceptional communication efforts, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where access to quality information and communication is critically low, particularly among women and under-served groups. Efforts to counter misinformation, increase vaccine confidence, and support vaccine uptake were urgent and necessary to be done in a timely and gender-responsive manner for rural communities. Vaccine inequality is a global issue, and at the time, a global effort to get the pandemic under control everywhere, included increasing vaccination rates in sub-Saharan Africa.

Our approach

We know that radio is the most relied on source of information in the countries we serve. Because of this, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Farm Radio International worked with their network of partnered radio stations to h to run public health and vaccine confidence campaigns at a massive scale, reaching as many as 86 million people across sub-Saharan Africa.

Through the VACS project, we are working with 215 radio partners — stations and broadcasters that we have worked to provide resources, trainings and facilitate discussions with — to coordinate radio campaigns in 16 countries. The end goal was continuing COVID-19 protection, boosting vaccine confidence and encouraging gender equality in COVID-19 responses. 

Through national campaigns designed to combat vaccine hesitancy, supported by resources developed in more than 20 languages by Farm Radio, radio stations within the Farm Radio network developed and ran COVID-19 campaigns in 89 different languages, matching both local needs and realities with the national and international goal of ending the pandemic.

The campaigns used the unique reach of radio combined with real-time feedback offered by mobile phones to increase access to life-saving, gender-responsive information about the current state of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Hear examples from the campaigns developed by the stations, here

Our impact



Radio stations delivering gender-responsive interactive radio on COVID-19 health measures.


listeners (32.7 million women).


average increase in vaccination rates between listeners compared to non-listeners.
in partnership with canada

Project snapshot

  • Duration: 9 months, 2022
  • Budget: $1,050,000 CAD
  • Radio stations: 200
  • Languages: Amharic, Bambara, Baoulé, Bemba, Chichewa/Chinyanja, Ciuté, Dholuo, Dioula, English, French, Hausa, Kabyè, Kiswahili, Krio, Mooré, Oromo, Portuguese, Pulaar/Peulh/Fouladou, Sénoufo, Sena, Sonrhai, Tanzanian Swahili, Wolof, Yoruba

Our results

The VACS project had three main objectives: 

  1. Continuous support to public health in the prevention of COVID-19
  2. Boosting vaccine confidence and the numbers of people being vaccinated
  3. Continuing to improve gender equality

Through radio campaigns across 16 countries, radio stations integrated vaccine confidence, public health and gender equality messages across their programming, thanks to coordination and resources provided by Farm Radio International teams. Broadcasters, health officials and gender experts worked together to create radio programming that served to protect communities in sub-Saharan Africa against COVID-19. 

Using our Uliza Polling technology, which can send push text messages and that listeners can call using interactive voice response technology, we surveyed listeners throughout the project to ensure radio campaigns stayed locally relevant and effective. We also worked with Geopoll to conduct remote and mobile-based surveys in eight countries to determine the effectiveness of the campaigns.

As the survey was conducted via SMS, the responders may not reflect the realities of marginalized groups as it limited access to those who have access and control of a mobile phone and know how to use it properly. This being said, this collection method offered Farm Radio with key data to assess the impact of the vaccine-hesitancy programs.


Through our 215 partner radio stations, we estimate that we had a potential coverage of 86 million people (about 400,000 potential listeners per station according to our latest studies), with an estimate of 66.2 million men, women and youth listeners to our gender-responsive and interactive radio campaigns. 49% of listeners were women, representing 32.7 million women. 

According to our GeoPoll survey conducted in eight of the countries of implementation, 77% of men and women listeners as well as 74% of youth decided to get vaccinated against COVID-19. If we compare those scores to non-listeners, we can observe an increase of 13% for women, 11% for men and 12% for youth in terms of health-seeking behavior, in this case, vaccination. Overall, this was an increase of 12% in the general population. It’s also important to note that 82% of women, 81% of men and 80% of youth interviewed indicated that it was the radio campaign that encouraged them to get vaccinated.

The GeoPoll survey indicates that we had a listenership rate of 77%, which may have to do with the priority topics addressed, the mainstreaming of COVID-19 information across all elements of the radio programming,  and/or the sampling strategy used by GeoPoll. Generally, Farm Radio surveys indicate that 40% of potential listeners  listen to our programs, which would still give us about 34.4 million listeners. 

The programs were broadcasted in 89 local languages.

Through a survey conducted among the participating radio partners, 175 radio broadcasters indicated they had increased their capacity to produce and deliver gender-responsive interactive radio programs about COVID-19 related public health measures and vaccination, resulting from the training received through the project. 95% of respondents indicated that they could competently design another campaign.

By the end of the campaign, a total of 44,569 interactions on mobile phones between listeners and radio stations (32,279 were from men and 12,290 from women) had been tallied through Farm Radio’s Uliza Interactive Services. 34 gender-responsive content resources were researched, developed and distributed for use by the radio stations. Two of the content resources were translated into 21 languages to facilitate usability. Overall, 82% of the content resources focused on gender equality and inclusion.

Popular resources included: 

68 Whatsapp group discussions were facilitated between experts and broadcasters across the 16 countries of implementation, actively engaging more than 1,477 individuals in the discussions. Each group discussion lasted one week and addressed a specific topic relevant to the context of that country, with a local expert invited to the discussion to provide relevant information and to provide broadcasters with the opportunity to clarify any emerging COVID-19 related issues. Discussion topics included: myths and misconceptions about vaccines; vaccine efficacy - particularly relating to fertility; how to address fake news; impact of the pandemic on women; and issues of vaccine hesitancy amongst key groups, particularly those who are immuno-compromised and elderly.

“When they came to vaccinate us, I was really worried. But I remembered the advice on Radio Uyesu programs. I got vaccinated.”

Malian farmer Achata Traore
Koutiala, in southern Mali.

Gender equality and inclusion

Vaccine and public health access affects people differently — for example along gender or other social factors like disability, age or migration status. The health needs of and barriers preventing a person from accessing health services, information or from getting vaccinated are distinct for, for instance, women compared to men, different for a young woman to an elderly woman, or still differently for a woman with a disability. 

The training and resources we offered broadcasters addressed Farm Radio’s gender equality and inclusion policy, human rights considerations and different aspects of gender (in)equality and COVID-19. The African writers hired to produce resources emphasized nuances related to gendered stereotypes and the differential impacts of the public health crisis based on gender, age, and physical health – ensuring the information touched on all of these issues, and that broadcasters took these complex realities into consideration continuously.

Farm Radio worked with local experts who contributed to both the design of programs and acted as resources people on air.  We partnered with local women’s rights and women-led organizations to base programs in local realities. These groups provided ideas on integrating gender and age considerations in the radio program content, as well as suggestions of locally available services relevant for marginalized groups. They were also featured on-air during radio programs, providing clarifications and insights regarding questions of gendered inequalities and health equity in COVID-19 and vaccination. 

Programming included decision-makers, musicians, persons of influence and a following, youth, religious and cultural leaders, opinion leaders. Some shared their experiences of using COVID-19 vaccines and the effects to counter misinformation and myths surrounding the vaccines. Broadcasters also encouraged women to interact with the radio programs by encouraging them to call in or share their experiences, fears and queries. In particular, this also included promotion through tailored messages in jingles.

A particular emphasis was placed on working with experts in health equity and women’s rights from groups representing marginalized populations. We will ensure that support provided to broadcasters is grounded in local realities regarding social inequalities by partnering with local women’s rights and women-led organizations. It was integral that the VACS project be based in and that it recognizes the efforts and expertise of local civil society. Through these partnerships we will develop national campaigns and inform e-discussions for broadcasters so they can meet the varying needs of their diverse audiences.