Inspiring Community COVID-19 Vaccinations in Zambia

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Monday, December 20, 2021
Dr. Adrian Moyo during a visit to Nchanga North General Hospital [Photo credit: Jason Mulikita]
Dr. Adrian Moyo during a visit to Nchanga North General Hospital
Photo credit: Jason Mulikita / USAID SAFE Project, Zambia

“Word of mouth is a powerful tool for the truth as well as [for] misinformation. I took it upon myself to share my positive experience of getting vaccinated to anyone and everyone I met.” 

Meet Dr. Adrian Moyo, a Zambian medical doctor and public health leader.  Doc Moyo, as he is affectionately known, recently embarked on a mission to encourage his colleagues, family members, and community to get vaccinated against COVID-19.  Through his efforts, Doc Moyo has convinced more than 300 people to visit a health facility to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. 

The decision to get vaccinated himself was easy. While working in a hospital in Botswana in the late 1990s during the height of the HIV epidemic, Doc Moyo experienced something that profoundly impacted his personal and professional life.  Doc Moyo worked in the emergency and advanced trauma unit and often had to perform surgery on people who were living with HIV. 

During one such surgery, he accidentally cut himself with a scalpel. After completing the surgery, he was immediately enrolled on post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatment, which is medication that prevents HIV infection after one has been exposed. “You can imagine the fear and stress that I experienced during that time. After completing the PEP treatment, I tested HIV negative. That was a huge relief,” says Doc Moyo.

“PEP worked and literally saved my life. That reinforced my belief in the power of science and medication. If there is something that can be done to prevent a situation, then do it. Give yourself a fighting chance.”

Serving as the Regional Director of the Copperbelt Province for the USAID Supporting an AIDS Free Era (SAFE) Project, Doc Moyo noticed that a large number of people were choosing not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, despite the best efforts of the Zambian Ministry of Health (MOH) to educate people on the benefits of the vaccine. 

“Worse still, the infection rate was rapidly increasing,” said Doc Moyo during Zambia’s third COVID-19 wave, “and so was the number of COVID-19 related deaths. Tragically, within the USAID SAFE project, we lost a number of staff members to COVID-19.  These were valuable and intelligent members of society who were making a positive impact in the fight against HIV. Something had to be done.”

Doc Moyo realized that many people he spoke with were hesitant to get vaccinated because of inaccurate COVID-19 vaccine information that they had seen on social media and heard in their communities. “ Word of mouth is a powerful tool for the truth as well as [for] misinformation. I took it upon myself to share my positive experience of getting vaccinated to anyone and everyone I met.” 

Doc Moyo began his crusade in his own home by convincing his wife and three children to get vaccinated. He then took his message to his family WhatsApp group, where he successfully convinced his brother, sister, and their families to get vaccinated as well.  Doc Moyo didn’t stop there - he spoke at his church about the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine and even convinced the reverend of his local parish to get vaccinated.  His Reverend went on to convince others to get vaccinated and has now joined SAFE's Faith and Community Initiative which aims to train and sensitize religious and traditional leaders on HIV prevention and treatment so that they can positively influence the people that they lead. 

Doc Moyo’s position as a medical doctor and trusted community member was key to his ability to influence others. “But that was the easy part,” said Doc Moyo.  “Interestingly, convincing colleagues within the health sector to get vaccinated was actually more difficult. To achieve that, I had to draw from my 27 years of treating HIV.” 

Dr. Adrian Moyo (second from left) talks to health workers at Nchanga North General Hospital [Photo credit: Patrick Chona]
Dr. Adrian Moyo (second from left) talks to health workers at Nchanga North General Hospital
Photo credit: Patrick Chona / USAID SAFE Project, Zambia

Doc Moyo used his colleagues’ experiences working with polio and tuberculosis to convince them to get vaccinated.  Once he reminded his colleagues how high child mortality was before polio and TB vaccines were introduced to Zambia, they also recognized the importance of getting vaccinated for COVID-19.  Doc Moyo shared this message with the USAID SAFE project staff (600 full-time employees and 1,000 volunteers) through an online COVID-19 vaccination campaign called “Why I Am Vaccinated.”  The campaign featured USAID SAFE’s frontline health workers sharing the reasons why they got vaccinated. Doc Moyo’s message inspired and continues to encourage many USAID SAFE staff to get vaccinated for COVID-19.  As a member of USAID SAFE’s senior management team, Doc Moyo implemented an initiative for the project’s staff to be transported to health facilities to get vaccinated. 

Dr. Adrian Moyo’s campaign poster for the ‘Why I am Vaccinated’ campaign [Photo credit: Dwan Dixon / USAID SAFE Project, Zambia]
Dr. Adrian Moyo’s campaign poster for the ‘Why I am Vaccinated’ campaign
Photo credit: Dwan Dixon / USAID SAFE Project, Zambia

This permitted staff members to get vaccinated during office hours, because they no longer faced the conflict of having to leave work to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

"Being a leader means showing concern for those you lead.  That is the only way we will defeat COVID-19, if we are all concerned for each other’s wellbeing,” said Doc Moyo.

The USAID SAFE project has supported the Zambia Ministry of Health’s efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic by establishing handwashing stations and procuring COVID-19 infection prevention and control equipment for over 300 public health facilities in the Central, Copperbelt, and Northwestern provinces of Zambia. 

USAID SAFE also supported the procurement of equipment and training for laboratory staff at Ndola Teaching Hospital and Arthur Davidson Children’s Hospital, which continue to be instrumental in COVID-19 testing, diagnosis, and treatment.  Integrating COVID-19 prevention messages into USAID SAFE’s ongoing community radio programs that they conduct collaboratively with selected District Health Teams remains a key priority. USAID SAFE’s work, including Doc Moyo’s critical advocacy to influence his peers, family, community, and clients to get their COVID-19 vaccine, is helping to combat COVID-19 and end the pandemic. 

Last updated: December 20, 2021

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