USAID has awarded the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs an additional $15.4 million to continue its COVID-19-related social and behavior change work in 14 countries across Africa and Asia.
The new funds bring the center’s total of COVID-19 funds from USAID to $78 million for work in 26 countries since the pandemic began three years ago. The work, steered by the CCP-led Breakthrough ACTION project, will cover a wide variety of COVID-based activities impacting priority populations such as kids through a push for pediatric vaccines and mental health programs for young people. Other work plans focus on increasing demand for COVID boosters and integrating them into routine vaccination programs and, in Mozambique, piloting a test-and-treat program.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have reached more than two billion people around the globe with our messages that encourage healthy behaviors from mask wearing to getting vaccinated,” says CCP’s Elizabeth Serlemitsos, Breakthrough ACTION’s project director. “We have worked in 26 countries with 99 work plans. We are proud to be able to continue serving people around the world who want to be protected from what is still a global pandemic.”
Along with facing a potentially deadly disease, teens from across the world reported increased anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To improve mental health, Breakthrough ACTION staff in the Philippines, for example, has been working with the Philippines Department of Health and designed a booklet for teens, A Moment for Myself: Taking Good Care of My Mind and Body, in response to their stated need for mental health support and resources.
Teens were involved in the content selection and design, and several leading mental health therapists/practitioners who work with teens reviewed it.
Currently, CCP staff in the Philippines are working to introduce the booklet through developing KwentoSerye, an online conversation series with teens and for teens. Kwento means story/storytelling and serye means series. The goal is to create a safe space for teens to talk about concerns about their health.
More episodes are being developed but the first two focus on the COVID-19 lockdown and vaccinations. The conversations revolve around how teens felt during the lockdown and about how they feel about the availability of vaccinations for teens. Each features a call to action, to either contact a hotline for professional help or encourage teens to get vaccinated at their nearest local government facility.
Since the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines in March 2021 in Liberia, more than 70 percent of the eligible population have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, an accomplishment made possible through the support of USAID, says CCP’s Saratu Olabode-Ojo, the Breakthrough ACTION chief of party in Liberia.
“Working with the Liberian government, we have been able to use innovative social and behavior change interventions such as COVID vaccine ambassadors and street theaters that empowered people and communities to understand the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines, address misconceptions and vaccine hesitancy amongst different population groups, and mobilize communities and health systems.”
As a result, Olabode-Ojo says Liberia has seen increased an uptake of COVID-19 vaccine, a reduction in positive cases and reduced severity of COVID infection.
The new tranche of funding will enable Breakthrough ACTION Liberia reach high-risk sub-populations, such as the very young and very old, to “ensure that no one is left behind, completely exposed to the threat of COVID.”
In recent months, Breakthrough ACTION COVID projects have included working with a radio station in Nigeria, to conduct a dance tournament that integrated messages on COVID prevention and malaria; collaborating with the Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria and others to create safe spaces for women to get vaccinations, including establishing women-only vaccination teams; and, in Liberia, conducted street theater performances to debunk COVID-19-related rumors and provide clear and consistent messages on insecticide treated net use and COVID-19 vaccine uptake.
Breakthrough ACTION will use the newest funds to continue its work in Bangladesh, Côte d’ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Malawi, Mali. Mozambique, Nigeria, the Philippines, Senegal and Sierra Leone, while beginning COVID-19 work in Guyana and Tanzania.