On the streets of the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda, the wheels of a boda boda (a motorcycle taxi) whirl up red dust as the driver slowly maneuvers through the settlement while music blares from a buckled loudspeaker in the back on his bike.
The driver is a mobile messenger with the loudspeaker that sends information about the Covid-19 vaccine to convince the residents of the camp to get the sting.
Home to Around a quarter of a million refugees from South Sudan, the Bidi Bidi settlement in northern Uganda is one of the largest refugee camps in the world.
The residents of the camp fled here in 2016 after an explosion of violence in South Sudan Escape civil war. In the years that followed, the white tents of the UN refugee agency UNHCR gave way to more permanent adobe houses, and refugees began building plots and running their own small businesses.
Then the pandemic struck. Schools and markets were closed and the refugees were told to stay at home.
“Everything was closed immediately because nobody knew what to do,” says Dr FelixEjessu, assistant health manager at Bidi Bidi for the aid organization theInternational Rescue Committee (IRC).
“Nobody knew how to react to Covid, how to prevent Covid, how to treat Covid. I think everyone thought we were coming to the end of the world. ”
It got tougher almost overnight for one of the most marginalized communities in the world. Tight pandemic budgets resulted in a 30 percent cut in already meager food rations and severe restrictions and restrictions on the refugees.
Small but thriving businesses were closed and the refugees were brought back to the hardships endured when you first arrived at the camp.
Eighteen months later, and the only way for the residents of Bidi Bidi to return to the life they rebuilt before the pandemic is the Covid-19 vaccine.
Uganda, which is home to nearly 1.5 million refugees, began introducing Covid-19 vaccinations in camps and settlements in May, starting with people over the age of 50. < / p>
The vaccines have finally reached Bidi Bidi. that stretches for hundreds of square miles of unyielding bushland near the city of Yumbe in northwest Uganda, near the border with South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But the slow start of rollout provided an opportunity for misinformation about the vaccine to flourish.
“By c In our case, there have been a lot of problems surrounding the vaccine, too many myths surrounding the vaccine. And a lot of people weren’t ready to tackle it, ”said Dr. Ejessu.
Aid agencies like IRC invested time preparing communities for the trick, with elderly health education discussions and radio talk shows and boda boda broadcasting for accurate information to further spread.
“When the first batch of the vaccine hit the market, some of them had to be returned because people didn’t want to take them. But through the ongoing awareness and engagement in the community, it has enabled us to really attract a number of people, ”says Dr. Charles Onek, a medical officer for the IRC in Bidi Bidi.
“We have over 12,000 to 13,000 people who have already received the vaccine,” he says.
Those who have have already received the vaccine, start spreading the news.
“My body has no side effects, I’m fine after the vaccination,” says Edina Tabu, who wears a bright pink and yellow dress with puff sleeves. “I feel strong and can work normally around the house.”
Grandmother Alice Poni spent the morning picking sesame seeds. “I am vaccinated. I don’t think it’s bad for you, “she says, sitting in front of her little grass-covered house.
Dr. Ejessu says refugee communities are starting to accept the vaccine, the key to ending lockdowns and quarantines so the residents of Bidi Bidi can resume their lives.
“With our good understanding of the vaccine, its formulation and his role and key leaders leading by example and taking him up and sharing videos and pictures … people had to understand that ‘yes, I think it’s the right thing’, “he says.
< p> “People started taking [the jab] and posting, ‘I took a vaccine too and I’m fine.’ I think this campaign built trust. ”
This story is part of the Vaccine for the World series at the Evening Standard in London