Raising faith in COVID-19 vaccines in Lesotho
Maseru - Myths and misinformation around COVID-19 vaccines are rife in Lesotho, where over 85% of nearly 500 health workers surveyed recently report widespread misconceptions.
A rapid survey, conducted in July by the World Health Organization (WHO) the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners covering five of Lesotho’s 10 districts showed conspiracy theories may be driving up fear, confusion and reluctance to get vaccinated in this highly religious society.
“My biggest fear was to be dragged into some cult and get the mark of the beast, so I watched and waited for others to get vaccinated to observe their health and behaviours,” says Mamookho Masamane, a church leader in the northern region of Leribe.
It is estimated that over 90% of people in Lesotho are Christian, and religious leaders are loved, respected and followed. The church provides over 40% of Lesotho’s health services through a network of hospitals, health centres and nursing colleges.
“We understand our calling is not just church-based, but it is also community-based. We are trusted by people and what we communicate can influence their decisions,” says Mapoloko Mabena, Secretary of the Christian Council of Lesotho in the northern city of Butha-Buthe.
With support from WHO and the Christian Council of Lesotho, the Ministry of Health is training religious leaders to spread life-saving facts on COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines.
“Prior to each training, participants are asked how much they know about COVID-19 vaccines. Most say they have very limited information, while some say they have no information at all, so we’re working to build up this knowledge,” says WHO Immunization Officer Selloane Maepe.
Six training sessions for 50 religious leaders have taken place in five of Lesotho’s 10 districts so far, starting with the northern districts of Berea, Leribe, and Butha-Buthe, as well as Mafeteng and in the capital, Maseru, which have all been hit hard by COVID-19.
“I never believed in this vaccine. I never wanted to take it myself or to encourage others to get it, but through this teaching I realized that a lack of information is actually a sin and getting vaccinated is important. I will share what I learned with everyone in my village, with friends and my church-mates.” says Mamookho Masamane at a training session in Leribe.
With a population of 2.1 million, Lesotho has recorded over 14 000 cases of COVID-19 and over 400 deaths. Nearly 10% of the population have received a first COVID-19 vaccine dose.
“The ability of religious leaders to effectively participate in responding to outbreaks depends on their understanding of them,” says Dr Richard Banda, WHO Representative in Lesotho.
“These workshops aim to impart knowledge to religious leaders as they play a crucial role in community mobilization, raising awareness, dispelling myths and misconceptions, boosting vaccine acceptance and bringing compromises where public health measures are considered to be discordant with religious values.”
The Ministry of Health, WHO and partners have five further workshops planned with religious and community leaders in five districts in the next month.