During 2022-2023, four mobile health caravans traveled to remote and underserved areas of the Western Balkans to ensure that vulnerable people have access to COVID-19 vaccination and the public health advice they need. need to protect themselves. To bring vaccination, healthcare and health recommendations to the heart of communities, with the support of WHO and its partners, national and equivalent public health authorities organized health caravans in Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo*. In addition to improving access to various health services, health caravans provide an opportunity for risk communication and community engagement (RCCE). During their visit, a two-way dialogue between health care providers and community members means caravan staff can answer questions and better understand the needs of communities and their barriers to accessing health care .
The experience of the Western Balkans shows why medical caravans are such an important public health intervention in emergencies.
Health caravans reduce geographical and practical obstacles to vaccination
In March 2022, with support from WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a caravan visited 14 communities urban and rural areas of North Macedonia, where the COVID-19 vaccination rate was lower than the vaccination rate. national average. Local civil society organizations made a valuable contribution by going door to door to inform the population of his arrival. Mobile health caravans can help increase vaccination rates in communities that have limited access to health care facilities by overcoming barriers to vaccination, such as lack of transportation, long distances and travel constraints. time. New analysis from WHO/Europe shows return on investment in RCCE for health authorities; North Macedonia’s mobile vaccination caravan resulted in a 35% increase in daily vaccination rates in the weeks following the visit compared to pre-intervention vaccination rates.
“With this caravan, we are reaching out to people who live in remote or underserved areas, to ensure they have access to vaccines,” said Anne Johansen, WHO Representative and Head of Macedonia Country Office North.
Mersiha Usein, a grassroots activist with Romalitico, a non-governmental organization, agrees. “It’s really important to meet the needs and priorities of communities at the local level,” she said.
Health caravans build confidence
In Albania, throughout the summer and fall months of 2022, WHO, in collaboration with the Albanian Red Cross and funded by USAID, supported a caravan that brought vaccination services closer to places of people’s residence and encouraged them to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and keep up. Protective measures.
RCCE involves listening to and responding to the concerns of community members. Mobile health workers can answer questions, listen to doubts and explain science in simple terms. Demonstrating that health care providers consider and respond to community needs and concerns helps build trust and increase acceptance of vaccination and health measures.
“COVID-19 remains a threat and we all need to take action and get vaccinated to protect ourselves against this disease,” said Anila Shameti, a nurse who supports community caravan events in Albania.
Health caravans provide public health advice
A total of 28 municipalities were targeted by the mobile caravan unit across Kosovo*, which took place from December 22, 2022 to January 26, 2023. The caravan was organized by WHO in partnership with the Ministry of Health of Kosovo and the Institute of Public Health, with financial support. from USAID.
Medical staff and vaccinators have engaged with local communities, encouraging COVID-19 vaccination and offering health advice on a range of other topics. During one of the caravan’s stops, the liaison officer from the WHO office in Pristina took his seasonal flu vaccine from a mobile unit to show the public that the vaccines offered during the caravan are safe and effective . Access to transparent and accurate health advice helps people make informed decisions about their own health and understand the importance of taking protective measures. It can also promote behavior change, encouraging people to adopt healthier practices, and can help them appreciate and follow government guidelines. Importantly, it can foster greater resilience within communities; Communities with more skills and knowledge cope better with crises and tend to have higher levels of community responsibility and support.
“The caravan was instrumental in bringing vaccination teams closer to communities and giving them the opportunity to learn more about how to protect their health and well-being and receive life-saving vaccines said Isme Humolli, country manager of the WHO office. , Pristina.
Health caravans tackle vaccination disparities
WHO, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the Institute of Public Health of Montenegro, and with the support of USAID, jointly launched a health caravan, which will take place in February and March 2023. The focus is on vaccination against COVID-19, but the initiative has also expanded to other life-saving vaccines that can protect children and young people against human papillomavirus (HPV) and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). The caravan visited four municipalities where uptake of COVID-19, HPV and MMR vaccines had been particularly low. Targeting communities with lower vaccination rates and higher disease rates, mobile vaccination caravans can help reduce health disparities and improve health equity.
“COVID-19 remains a threat and the vaccination rate is still low in Montenegro,” said Dr Mina Brajović, WHO Representative in Montenegro. “With the Health Caravan, we want to reach as many people as possible and make COVID-19 and other essential vaccines more easily accessible to at-risk groups and people living in remote and/or remote areas. or disadvantaged. To increase vaccination rates, we need collective action, partnerships, strong community engagement and informed citizens.
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that RCCE is at the heart of emergency responses. Indeed, providing services and responses in the event of an emergency is not enough. Population behaviors are essential to controlling emergency situations and, to accelerate recovery, access to these services and interventions is required. The Western Balkans Health Caravans demonstrate why direct and transparent engagement with communities connects service delivery and access and has such a positive impact on health protection.
*All references to Kosovo in this document should be understood in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).