Raising Awareness and Improving COVID-19 Vaccination Coverage in Atacora, Benin

October 17, 2022

Raising Awareness and Improving COVID-19 Vaccination Coverage in Atacora, Benin

By Alexis Bokossa, Senior Technical Advisor for the USAID Integrated Health Services Activity, led by Management Sciences for Health

Since March 2021, the Government of Benin has organized multiple mass COVID-19 vaccination campaigns that have helped achieve important results. Between November 21, 2021, and March 27, 2022, the vaccination rate in the Department of Atacora increased from 3% to 53.37% within the target population. This result was achieved thanks to the involvement and leadership of the Departmental Directorate for Health (Direction Départementale de la Santé [DDS]), its technical and financial partners, local elected officials, and community health agents. The campaign saw the active involvement of Department elected officials in reviewing COVID-19 vaccination data at the beginning of April 2022 in order to inform further actions and enlist additional support in order to achieve the Ministry of Health’s target of 60% vaccination coverage.

“At the end of the three intensive COVID-19 vaccination phases, the Ministry decided to continue to provide routine vaccination appointments in health facilities. In the weeks following this decision, we noticed a decrease in the number of people getting vaccinated and a stagnation of the vaccination coverage in all departments,” stated Dr. Sylvestre Nékoua, the Service Head for Public Health and Infection Response at the Atacora Departmental Directorate for Health.

To address this situation, the US Agency for International Development’s Integrated Health Services Activity (IHSA) provided assistance to the DDSs of the four departments where the IHSA project is being implemented (Alibori, Atacora, Ouémé, and Plateau), to support a more targeted approach to increase the COVID-19 vaccination rate.

Implementing advanced vaccination strategies in Atacora

This approach, already used in the past by the Ministry of Health, focuses on relaunching vaccination teams using an advanced strategy. The strategy entails deploying mobile vaccination teams to remote villages with little access to health centers and with populations with limited resources. The project also supported the Health Zone Management Teams, the Head Doctors (Infirmiers Chef de Poste), and members of the engagement committees to organize awareness sessions in villages with low vaccination rates. During these sessions, local health messaging is provided to both health workers and other specific groups (e.g., high school and university students, members of health center management committees, women’s groups, elected officials). The topics covered included vaccine awareness activities; the advantages of being vaccinated; risk communications around COVID-19; and community engagement, especially the importance of hand washing and physical distancing. Additionally, monitoring is conducted in each village during regular supervision visits to see the effect of local communication activities on the vaccination rate and the use of vaccination services.

This work has led to progress in vaccination coverage. The COVID-19 vaccination rate has surpassed the 60% threshold, with 61.03% of the target population being vaccinated as of July 10, 2022, after six weeks of work. Atacora is the only department in the country to have achieved the Ministry’s objectives as of that date. Dr. Nékoua expressed his satisfaction with the work achieved: “We are grateful for the COVID-19 vaccination interventions that the project has supported in the field. This work will help improve the COVID-19 vaccination rate in the department.” However, the project’s work isn’t over, and a new plan is under review to extend this work to all health zones of the other three departments supported by the project.