Moved by the onset of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone in March 2020, FOCUS 1000 partnered with the Government, Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) to periodically undertake studies to assess the knowledge, attitudes and practices of the general public pertaining to the standard prevention measures. Hence in March and August 2020 COVID-19 KAP-1 and KAP-2 were conducted respectively. These helped NaCOVERC, in particular the Social Mobilisation and Media Pillars, design appropriate messages to urge compliance.
Furthermore, motivated by the resurgence in COVID-19 cases starting December 2020, in the midst of global misinformation about the availability of vaccines, FOCUS 1000, with support from Irish Aid and technical assistance from the MoHS decided to undertake a KAP-3 in February this year. One of the objectives of the KAP-3 study was to probe for an understanding of perceptions, knowledge and attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccination.
Mohammad Bailor Jalloh, CEO, FOCUS 1000 said: “This study is good to show where we have barriers at this particular point in time and we focused on 3 areas – vaccination, face masks and home care. We did not only look at the findings but also at the recommendations for moving forward – how can we use the findings to help inform policies and also to help shape communication strategies and messages. We hope that our findings will be able to help the Government of Sierra Leone reshape communication messages so that they will have the desired impact.”
The key conclusions from the findings are that nearly half of all respondents (46%) were aware of COVID-19 vaccines and three-fourths of all respondents (72%) were willing to accept COVID-19 vaccination; with the ‘hesitants’ asking that they see Politicians and Health workers being vaccinated first; nearly everyone (97%) knew how to properly wear facemask and knew that its regular use in public prevents COVID-19 (95%); healthcare workers were by far the most trusted persons to talk to about COVID-19 vaccination (76%) followed by religious leaders (9%); the Western Area (where over 70%) of all COVID cases and deaths have been recorded had; people who reported they were at ‘some risk’ of getting COVID-19 (76%) and perceived that new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are more infectious also reported they most frequently did not practice social distancing. This reminds us that knowledge does not automatically translate into action and above all, about 30% of respondents wish to care for a sick family at home who are suspected of having COVID-19 and wanted to know how to do it. However, most homes across the country simply do not have the space or required facilities for home isolation.
Dr. Tom Sesay, Child Health and Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) Programme Manager, MoHS said: “One of the things I am happy about is that 72% of Sierra Leoneans are willing to take the vaccines. I think this is very encouraging and is a reflection of the work that we have done as Ministry of Health and partners to develop trust among communities. This is an opportunity for the media to come on board to speak with authority and bring out the facts. Science is moving at a terrific pace and you should appreciate it and try to be a part of it. We have a moral responsibility to contribute to the development of our society.”
As a result, the key recommendations are that THE MEDIA and other partners like the Kombra Network should popularize coverage of politicians and health workers getting COVID-19 vaccination to strengthen confidence and trust in the vaccines; regularly publicize vaccine coverage in other [African] countries e.g. Ghana; and feature health personnel on radio, TV and medical columns in newspaper discussing the requirements for and challenges to home care of the infected, whilst at the same time promote facility-based care
Furthermore, Mr. Harold Thomas, Programme Manager and Communication Lead, Health Education, MoHS said: “These KAP series have helped the Risk Communication and Public Health pillars to craft, review and redesign our messages so the public can have sound and accurate information. Our objective is actually to communicate risks and also to counter myths and misconception. By that, we have been able to give sound and accurate information to increase knowledge and also influence attitudes. According to the findings, you can see that there is a thin line between knowledge and practice – for instance, almost 100% of people knew how to properly wear facemask and knew that its regular use in public is very important in the prevention of COVID-19 but the practice is different. It’s very important that we serve as role models if we want people to believe in what we are doing or in the information we are disseminating.”
To the media and all partners, it is obvious a lot more work needs to be done in the Western Area to motivate compliance to COVID prevention measures, including vaccination.
FOCUS 1000 (Facilitating and Organising Communities to Unite for Sustainable Development), has since 2012 worked closely and expansively with the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and multiple partners in implementing projects across the country. Such interventions cut across research, health, nutrition, water, sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), emergencies, as well as Education and Social Protection.