Belaid is a 38-year-old sociologist and assistant lecturer at Al-Kufra University. He is volunteering with the Libyan Red Crescent Society and joined the PUI community health team to contribute to promoting the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Along with 22 other Community mobilizers, he was trained to play a crucial role in his community tackling misinformation and misconception about Covid-19 and vaccines.
He was also trained on how sharing information in line with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Government guidelines can build trust among the community, to boost vaccine uptake and buy-in. He says: “Too much conflicting information on vaccines, misinformation, and disinformation negatively impacted people’s attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, and intention to accept vaccination. Thus, we were continually briefed on the misinformation, disinformation, and rumors around Covid-19 vaccines and how to build and maintain trust.”
Adopting a community-centered approach, PUI Community Mobilizers visited remote areas and hard-to-reach households, shops, gas stations, public spaces, and primary healthcare facilities up to Tazirbu and Rebyana, 400 KM far away from the main city of Al-Jawf. Through groups and door-to-door awareness sessions, they were answering questions, doubts, and fears around Covid-19 vaccines, and distributing information and education materials.
Messages on the importance, safety, and effectiveness of the vaccines helped patients to make informed decisions about getting the vaccine, particularly for the most vulnerable ones, at high risk of developing serious symptoms. Kadisha, one of PUI Community Mobilizers recalls:” I’m personally not able to forget this elderly man, who visited the primary healthcare facility where we were deployed. He was, seeking medical assistance for his chronic respiratory disease and when I asked whether he was vaccinated against Covid-19, he told me he was not yet. I explained to him that vaccination, combined with hand hygiene and other protective measures, is a critical intervention to protect from severe illness and reduce intensive care admissions numbers. I was thrilled when he decided to take the vaccine and the boosts.”
Moreover, throughout the ongoing Covid-19 immunization campaign, alongside community awareness-raising sessions, an evidence-based advocacy campaign was launched on Al-Kufra local radio station, one of the main trusted local communication channels. The PUI team has worked closely with Al-Kufra Department of Health Services, the National Centre for Diseases Control, and local government representatives to promote positive messages around Covid-19 vaccines and to garner support for vaccinators and healthcare providers. Through live radio sessions and tailored messages, the demand for the vaccine increased. In fact, it was recorded that 72% of the overall visitors of the vaccination centers seek the Covid-19 vaccine as a result of the community outreach and communication campaign strategy.
With the generous contribution of the European Union, Swiss Confederation, and Italian Cooperation, since 2019 PUI has supported more than seven healthcare facilities across Al-Kufra region and continues to provide support to the Department of Health Services in promoting equal access to quality healthcare services for Libyans, refugees, and migrants.
When the response to the Covid-19 pandemic became overwhelming to Al Kufra local authorities, doctors, and nurses, Première Urgence Internationale medical team rushed to the rescue. Al Kufra is a forsaken region in South-East Libya, isolated and marginalized. The area suffers from severe shortages of medical equipment and specialized staff. With the financial support of the European Union and The Swiss Confederation, Première Urgence Internationale (PUI), promoted the local community’s access to the Covid-19 vaccines through technical and logistical support.
Suhail Al’Aneizi – 35 years old – is a medical doctor who had just started working with PUI when the activities to promote the national vaccination campaign and safe access to Covid-19 vaccines were launched in Al Kufra district. Along with his colleagues, in July 2021, Suhail was deployed to Al Kufra, in deserted and hard-to-reach areas located 1150 km from Benghazi city. He joined PUI medical team to support the work of the Department of Health Services in the roll-out of the Covid-19 national immunization campaign notably across neglected and isolated areas of Al Tullab, Al Kufra Al Jadidah, Al Shura, Al Jawf, Al Hweiwiri, Rebyana, and Tazirbu.
He explains:” With the significant increase of serious covid-19 cases and the launching of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign, the health care units in Al Kufra having limited capacities were struggling with the roll-out of the campaign in the region.”
PUI medical team, adopted an inclusive approach, to reach all Libyan and non-Libyan communities. Through regular capacity building and on-site supervision, PUI medical team enhanced the technical capacities of more than 90 Covid-19 vaccination personnel, supporting the capacities of the Department of Health Services and National Centre for Diseases Control during their journey to the successful rollout of the Covid-19 national vaccination campaign. In addition to supporting the two main vaccination sites in Al Jawf, the main city of the district, PUI contributed to the operationalization of two additional sites in Rebyana and Tazirbu, located respectively 200 and 400 km far from Al Jawf.
Within the supported vaccination centers, PUI medical staff carried out pre-check medical consultations for Covid-19 vaccine seekers and constantly followed up on the medical staff’s vaccination process, contributing to raising awareness and providing information to the visitors of the centers.
On this matter, Fatima Werfali, 45 years old, PUI vaccination nurse recalls:” People to whom we provided medical assistance prior to getting the Covid-19 vaccine were encouraging their friends, neighbors, and families to visit PUI medical team in the vaccination center and this was reflected in the increasing number of vaccine seekers”
Indeed, the number of doses administrated significantly increased from less than 500 monthly doses to over 2000 doses prior to PUI intervention across Al Kufra region.
Additionally, Première Urgence Internationale in close coordination with the Department of Health Services and the National Centre for Diseases Control took a major part in the safe delivery and storage of the vaccine to Al Kufra district by donating cold chain equipment and organizing delivery operations within a matter of days following the request. Suhail adds:” The vaccines are available in the main vaccine storage center in Benghazi city. 1150 km is the distance separating Al Kufra from Benghazi city, 400 km of the road is unpaved sand desert, so the process involved some challenges, which were mainly related to transportation”
Fatima and Suhail explain that this intervention was a success and a personal accomplishment for both. They believe that with financial support from the European Union and The Swiss Confederation, the prompt medical response, technical assistance, and acquired knowledge could be expanded in other parts of the Libyan Southern East isolated area or in any future medical emergencies.
With the generous contribution of the European Union, Swiss Confederation, and Italian Cooperation, since 2019 Première Urgence Internationale has supported more than seven healthcare facilities across Al Kufra region and continues to provide support to the Department of Health Services in promoting equal access to quality healthcare services for Libyans, refugees, and migrants.
A decade of protracted conflict and related instability that dominated Libya since 2011 has compounded the already limited healthcare services in the isolated Southern East region of Al-Kufra. The burden on the few health facilities was worsened since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
In response to the pandemic, as soon as vaccines have been made available, Al-Rifi Al-Hweige primary health care center was appointed as the main COVID-19 vaccination point in the region in April 2021, among six other vaccination sites. Currently, only two vaccination centers are operating for an estimated population of sixty thousand inhabitants. Al-Rifi Al-Hweige center is located in Al-Jawf city center and serves more than ten thousand people in the area.
Ahmed Salah, thirty-three years old, Head of the primary health care unit within the Department of Health Services (DHS), like most health services managers, has been dealing with the additional burden that responding to the Covid-19 pandemic has created on the local weak health system and the barriers in promoting the vaccination campaign due to the reluctance to get vaccinated among the local population. Ahmed was concerned that, after a decade of significant shortages in equipment and supplies, the increasing number of confirmed cases would only go higher. He explains “After the widespread of the covid-19 virus, and the launch of the vaccination campaign all over the world, and particularly in Al-Kufra region, we as healthcare providers and patients visiting the vaccination center were overwhelmed with inaccurate information and misconceptions about the restrictions, preventive and protective measures, and lack of trust in the vaccine, which unfortunately contributed greatly to the vaccine hesitancy phenomenon.”
In July 2021, Première Urgence Internationale (PUI) in close coordination with Al-Kufra Department of Health Services and the National Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC), with the support of The Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG-ECHO) and The Swiss Confederation (SDC), has launched a project to promote the national vaccination campaign and safe access to COVID-19 vaccines, in Al-Kufra region. PUI medical staff trained the health staff of the vaccination centers in line with WHO guidelines to help improve their technical capacities and to equip them with the necessary information to reduce vaccine reluctance amongst patients. “With the training sessions provided by PUI, the health staff learned how to correctly administrate and safely store the vaccines, how to safely dispose of the used medical items, the importance of promoting the benefits of the vaccine, and good practices to increase the vaccine acceptance amongst patients. I honestly felt a dynamic activity and tangible results among the medical staff “
The PUI team was present daily in the supported vaccination centers, supporting the medical staff by carrying out pre-check consultations for patients and providing awareness sessions about the benefits of the Covid-19 vaccine and its major contribution to protecting them and their families. Ahmed believes that this particular step has reassured patients and was a key factor in the increase of the vaccination rate across Al-Kufra. “By March 2022, we were able to administrate almost 2,000 doses per month which resulted in a higher rate of vaccination, almost 16.6% of the population have received two doses. In January 2022, for instance, when the Omicron variant hit Al-Kufra, only 16 patients were admitted to Attiah Al-Kasseh general hospital for complications associated with COVID-19, unlike other waves, when we had more than 100 active hospitalized cases”
On this matter, with more than 20 years of experience as a vaccinator, Mariem, forty-nine years old vaccination supervisor, believes that the project contributed significantly to increasing the quality of the health service provided by the medical staff and facilitating the vaccination process. The activities implemented in Al-Rifi Al-Hweige vaccination center have notably improved the vaccine acceptance of the local community of Al-Kufra, she adds: “Patients now do not get the vaccine directly. They are directed first to the vaccination pre-check room where PUI team receives them for a medical pre-check examination by PUI medical doctor while the rest of the team continues the registration process. They provided us with the latest updates, leaflets, answers to multiple questions and reversed rumors and misconceptions about the vaccine. A lot of people were hesitant about the Covid-19 vaccine, but together with PUI team we were able to help them make an informed decision to finally take it.”
With the generous contribution of the European Union, Swiss Confederation, and Italian Cooperation, since 2019 PUI has rehabilitated more than seven healthcare facilities across Al-Kufra region and continues to support the Department of Health Services in promoting equal access to quality healthcare services for Libyans, refugees, and migrants.