USAID Health System Sustainability Activity and HAMNASA Join Hands to Further Boost Timor-Leste’s COVID-19 Response
On March 29, 2022, the remote village of Memo in the Bobonaro Municipality took part in the launch of ‘COVID19 SAFE’, an important initiative to boost Timor-Leste’s COVID-19 response. The COVID19 SAFE project is supported by the Unites States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by local NGO Hamutuk Nasaun Saudavel (HAMNASA; ‘Together a Healthy Country’ in English). The USAID Health System Sustainability Activity recently awarded a $320,000 grant to HAMNASA to expand equitable access to and delivery of safe and effective COVID -19 vaccines. HAMNASA will work across villages and towns in four municipalities (Bobonaro, Ermera, Ainaro, and Liquica), which have been reporting vaccination rates lower than the national average. The ‘COVID19 SAFE’ project grant is among the several initiatives the USAID Activity is undertaking to support the Timorese Ministry of Health in fighting the COVID-19 epidemic and building a robust and self-reliant health system.
The opening ceremony of the COVID19 SAFE project was attended by senior leadership, including H.E. Chargé d’affaires/Mission Director of USAID Timor-Leste; Director General for Corporate Services; Director General for Health Services; Director of Municipality Health services; President of Authority of Bobonaro Municipality; Executive Director of HAMNASA; Chief of Party of the USAID Health System Sustainability Activity; Chief of Suco Memo; Bobonaro Municipality Health professionals and communities.
The ‘COVID19 SAFE’ project opened with the launch of COVID-19 vaccination to school-age children (12–17 years old) in the Bobonaro municipality. The USAID Activity, working through HAMNASA, supported the Ministry of Health and Municipality Health Services in conducting community mobilization and disseminating COVID-19 information to the Memo village community, including to teachers and parents of school-age children. The Pfizer vaccine for children was rolled out at Escola Basica Central Beremamuk (Beremanuk Central Basic School) in Memo, where 236 children received the Pfizer vaccine. The campaign in the village community also brought results: 11 first doses and 9 second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 207 booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine were administered in Memo village on the day of the event.
The USAID Activity is working through HAMNASA to accelerate progress toward the Government of Timor-Leste’s vaccination targets, including achievement of 90 percent vaccination rate nationally and vaccination rate of at least 80 percent in every municipality by June 2022. As of March 2022, two of the target municipalities (Ermera and Bobonaro) were repoting vaccination rates lower than 80 percent for the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. All four target municipalities (Ermera, Bobonaro, Ainaro, and Liquica) reported coverage of both second dose and booster dose at below 80 percent. USAID’s COVID19 SAFE project will work to bridge this gap and not only expand COVID-19 vaccine coverage but also improve uptake of essential health services in the community.
The USAID Activity is being widely appreciated for its support to boost Timor-Leste’s COVID-19 response. Speaking at the project’s opening ceremony, H.E. Bonifácio Mau Coli dos Reis, the Vice Minister of Health, stated: “The Government of Timor-Leste, through the Ministry of Health, expresses gratitude for USAID’s support in responding to the pandemic and the efforts to increase vaccination uptake at the municipality level. I would like to congratulate the team for its hard work to advocate for vaccination in the community. We expect that the opening of USAID’s COVID19 SAFE program and the launch of Pfizer vaccine for 12–17 year olds will motivate the community to get vaccinated, and especially encourage parents to bring their children to health centers to get vaccinated.”
Improved access to and delivery of safe and effective vaccines will help continue Timor-Leste’s success in limiting deaths and serious illness from COVID-19. The ‘COVID19 SAFE’ grant will provide a sustainable approach by training healthcare workers and strengthening community health systems to prepare, prevent, detect, and respond to future pandemics.
More about the work HAMNASA will undertake through the USAID Activity’s support
HAMNASA will implement a host of interventions in the four municipalities of Bobonaro, Ermera, Ainaro, and Liquica, where it will work with communities to expand COVID-19 vaccine coverage and bolster utilization of essential health services. HAMNASA’s key activities will include:
- Advocacy activities together with the Ministry of Health and Municipality Health Services to combat misinformation about COVID-19, infection pathways, and vaccination, including a mass media campaign to build public knowledge and vaccine awareness
- Orienting healthcare workers at all health facilities (hospitals, community health centers, and health posts) on the Pfizer vaccine
- Support to Municipality Health Services in launching the Pfizer vaccine to children of ages 12–17 years in schools and community in the targeted municipalities
- Coordination with the Municipality Health Services, UNICEF, WHO, and other partners to align workplans and activities in the targeted municipalities
- Community mobilization activities in municipalities to increase vaccination rates for the first and second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine
- Encouraging high-priority groups (such as frontline workers, people with comorbidities, and people over 60 years of age) to get vaccinated
- Review of the existing COVID-19 risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) interventions (e.g., advocacy, home visits, community mobilization, audio and audiovisual media campaigns) that target villages and communities as a whole, as well as those targeting school-age children, teachers, and parents/legal guardians specifically
- Identification and training of community role models to spread knowledge about vaccine safety and efficacy, including through co-developed and co-implemented RCCE approaches
- Training of health workers in rural and hard-to-reach areas on COVID-19 prevention and control, including preparation for the upcoming vaccine rollout to children (12–17 years)
- Improving access to and uptake of quality patient-centered maternal, newborn, and child health services, thereby reducing preventable deaths and illnesses and supporting better general health and wellbeing in Timor-Leste