Like in many communities, health workers are key personnel dedicated and equipped to engage, inform and address concerns with regards to public health. Community engagement has become an important component of health services planning and delivery since the outbreak of Covid-19. Indeed, community engagement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic had a great impact in Tunisia as well as in other countries worldwide.
Several CSOs, ONGs, Red Cross as well as Scouts have significantly contributed to the different pandemic management stages starting from the March 2020 worldwide lockdown period, followed by regional measures and restrictions period, to the lifting of restrictions. The contribution of the Scouts consisted of a wide range of activities and services for the community. This includes shopping for those in quarantine and raising awareness of the importance of self-isolation when infectious. They have also contributed to answering questions regarding disease signs, transmission mode and barrier gestures. Since August 2020, Scouts have been significantly involved in contact tracing which represent a key approach for slowing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting individuals, their families and the community. Moreover, the Tunisian health system has significantly benefited from the Scouts’ support in raising awareness of the population toward vaccination necessity. For this propose, about 150 participating Scouts have been allocated to the National Observatory of New and Emerging Diseases (ONMNE) and the Regional Health Directorates where Scouts have received specific trainings for contact tracing. Indeed, field trainings in contact tracing and communication has been provided by the Tunisia-WHO and EMRO teams in order to develop and strengthen Scouts’ communication and contact tracing skills.
The ONMNE and DRS team level always worked under the supervision of the Ministry of Health whose the main role was to provide ongoing training for Scouts, answering their questions and guiding them.
In addition, Scout volunteers have been allocated throughout main Tunisia regions and were in charge of contacting positive cases to complete the missing information needed for data analysis. This was done by listing close contacts for testing and monitoring, advising them to quarantine, encouraging self-monitoring of cases with serious symptoms, promoting barrier measures, and raising awareness on vaccinations.
In fact, an important communication role has been assigned to Scouts such as attending to questions and concerns from those who tested positive for COVID-19 by reassuring and guiding them in medical care procedures. Scout’s community mobilization has been represented via their participation to a project in partnership with UNICEF, ONMNE and SCOUTS “AWARENESS Project”. In the framework of this project, several training sessions and seminars have been scheduled by the ONMNE and UNICEF team such as “Training of Trainers (TOT) for ambassador’s profit, training on disease clinical signs, mode of transmission and protection, hand washing and hydro alcoholic friction, mask wearing, common spaces ventilation and disinfection. In addition, Q/A training Session has been held to ensure Scouts’ preparedness to answer the community’s FAQs.
This pilot project involved 3 main aspects of crisis management and the vaccination aspect has been added afterward. The first aspect aimed raising awareness in schools throughout all governorates and education institutions. For this proposes educational material has been developed by ONMNE and UNICEF teams including posters, leaflets and educational and interactive games related to Covid-19 in order to make kids aware of the disease severity and the importance of preventive measures and barrier gestures allowing them to protect themselves and their families.
The second aspect targeted the community environment in order to increase their awareness of the disease, symptoms, its mode of transmission and preventative measures. For this aim several actions have been undertaken in all delegations and governorates. A brigade called “Brigade anti COVID-19” has been set up to advise those who were not wearing mask at mass assembly points seeking essential services such as bus, metro and train stations, public markets (Souks) etc.
The third part involves the set-up of sanitary caravan through which Scouts have committed to visit all Tunisian regions including the most rural ones in order to prevent any social exclusion regarding the disease and sharing information about preventative measures.
Since the start of the first vaccination campaign in March 2021, Tunisian population, as worldwide, had some apprehensions and concerns toward new COVID-19 vaccines. This is especially true since there was uncertainty about the disease and vaccines side effect and their potential toxicity. Hence, there was an urgent need for the national health system to develop a trust relationship with the community in order to address their fears and perceptions and build trust toward vaccines. Field staff, volunteers and civil society members play an important part in facilitating trust with communities and community leaders, and in providing accurate and timely health information. Indeed, Scout volunteers played great work in this field via the sanitary caravan actions throughout Tunisian regions to promote vaccination, convince people to adhere to the Evax national vaccination system and assist them in the Evax platform registration process. They have also brought great support to health workers by assisting them in the logistic vaccination process.