Faith Leaders Educate Community About COVID-19 in Liberia

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Every Sunday, leaders visit at least 12 religious centers to discuss COVID-19 prevention efforts

Posted on Dec 22, 2021

Elizabeth Jackson, president of Evangelical St. Peter Lutheran Church, and a team of faith leaders address the congregation at Mount Sinai in Harper, Liberia. (Photo by Jason Amoo / PIH)

Religious leaders in Maryland County, Liberia have strengthened the campaign against the spread of COVID-19. During visits to churches and mosques, in a country where more than 98% are religious, leaders have educated community members about the importance of health protocols—from hand washing and mask-wearing to social distancing and vaccination.

Trained by Partners In Health (PIH) Liberia and the Maryland County health team, religious leaders are a key part of the county’s broader COVID-19 prevention efforts. Since July, PIH has supported the Maryland County health team with targeted outreach and training for religious and youth leaders to raise awareness about COVID-19 and to promote safety protocols. They’ve also trained commercial taxi motorbike drivers, who receive a steady income while providing the main source of transportation in the county. As many community members use their services, this poses an additional risk of COVID-19 transmission between riders, passengers, and their contacts.

The training session for religious leaders and motorbike drivers included education about the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, which health facilities to visit when feeling ill, and the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Participants also agreed to enter a social contract to protect themselves, their families, and communities with the shared goal of stopping community transmission.

“People listen more to their spiritual leaders and that is why we have advocated to go through them to spread the word on COVID-19,” says Viola Karanja, PIH Liberia’s deputy executive director.

For years, PIH Liberia has collaborated with the county health team to improve access to care for those living in the country’s rural Southeast region. And this isn’t the first time they’ve turned to religious leaders for support. Most recently, they relied on prophets to strengthen mental health services.

Elizabeth Jackson, president of Evangelical St. Peter Lutheran Church, speaks with a congregation member outside of the church. (Photo by Jason Amoo / PIH)

Now, as COVID-19 continues to spread, especially with new variants while vaccine uptake is slower than needed due to myths about vaccination, these strategies have become even more crucial. Community engagement at this stage of the pandemic is considered critical to demystifying myths and promoting infection prevention protocols.  The efforts of these groups has contributed to a drastic reduction in disease transmission and an increase in COVID-19 vaccination uptake from 2,783 doses in May to 21,318 by early December.

“Though we have our risk communication team and community health workers, health starts in the community and people believe those in the community, most especially the religious leaders,” says Dr. George Methodius, Maryland County health officer. “When we involve the religious community, they can go to the congregation and tell people COVID-19 is real.”

Every Sunday, 12 religious leaders—divided into three groups—visit at least a dozen religious centers and speak to the congregations about the importance of COVID-19 safety protocols. About 30 churches have been visited so far, reaching approximately 1,200 people. Imams and other Muslim leaders have also been trained to share the messages with congregants at the two mosques in the county.

Many of the churches and mosques have begun implementing the protocols and have continued to spread awareness beyond the initial meeting. In some instances, this is the first time individuals have learned about the importance of COVID-19 prevention efforts.

“I have also learned a lot myself; I never knew much about hand washing and the nose mask.  I was never using it, but now I do. We will still continue because not everyone has heard the message yet,” says Elizabeth Jackson, president of Evangelical St. Peter Lutheran Church.

In addition to providing educational resources to churches and mosques, PIH Liberia continues to ensure that places of worship have supplies for handwashing, masks, and other important infection prevention items, explains Karanja. As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, hitting countries without widespread access to vaccines the hardest, PIH Liberia continues to find new ways to educate and engage communities throughout Maryland County.

Originally published on pih.org

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