Americas: Restoring trust of vulnerable communities key to fair and inclusive recovery after two years of pandemic, says IFRC

Personal de la Cruz Roja realiza encuestas y entrevistas de percepción a la comunidad indígena en sus viviendas

Red Cross personnel conduct surveys and perception interviews with the indigenous community in their homes

Photo: Sebastian Castañeda, Reuters

Panama, March 23, 2022 – Migrants, host communities and indigenous populations’ trust in local authorities and decision-makers on COVID-19 related issues has dropped to a third, compared to the beginning of the pandemic. This is one of the key findings of "COVID-19 in the Americas: listening to the most vulnerable", a study carried out by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, which analysed the perceptions of COVID-19 in the most vulnerable communities.

The report finds that humanitarians are the second most trusted group after scientists. It also shows that high or moderate trust in government leaders is associated with greater trust in vaccines’ safety and efficacy.

Diana Medina, Manager of Community Engagement and Accountability for the IFRC in the Americas, said:

''Listening to communities, using data to design interventions adjusted to the changing contexts of the pandemic and locally led response approaches are key to strengthening confidence around vaccines and to protect people against COVID-19. If people don’t trust vaccines or can’t have access to it, vaccination rates will remain low, and this pandemic will not end. We trust that the report’s findings and recommendations will serve as a basis for redefining the strategies on the ground and the advocacy processes necessary to ensure that immunization campaigns reach the last mile''

The study also finds that despite their willingness to get vaccinated, migrants and indigenous communities face great difficulties in accessing the vaccine, such as long distances, long waiting lines or registration issues. In fact, indigenous populations expressed having received less information than the rest of the population consulted and a higher level of reluctance to adopt all the protection measures for COVID-19.

Maria Franca Tallarico, IFRC Regional Manager for Health and Care for the Americas, said: ''Even though there are significant advances in controlling the spread of COVID-19, the pandemic is not over yet. Many people remain unvaccinated or with incomplete vaccination schemes. Understanding what these groups think about the virus and vaccination is essential to maintain dialogue, approach communities in a contextualized way to facilitate the implementation of healthy behaviours and habits, favour a fair and inclusive recovery and increase vaccination rates, thus reducing the risk of proliferation of new variants.''

Most interviewees said they found COVID-19 health messages useful and effective. However, it is key to consider the differences that exist within the same communities. Decision-makers and local authorities need to strengthen the dialogue with vulnerable communities to implement differentiated, contextualized and needs-based COVID-19 response strategies for specific groups such as indigenous communities, migrants and refugees.

To improve the effectiveness of the information about the virus and vaccines, the IFRC encourages the use of adapted and understandable messages in native languages, using the most trusted actors as spokespersons with communities. It also suggests articulating activities with health staff and humanitarian organizations as key actors to strengthen trust and promote greater adoption of protection and vaccination measures against COVID-19.

Continuing advocacy efforts to guarantee universal and prompt access to vaccines will also remain vital to overcoming the pandemic, as well as promoting the implementation of socioeconomic recovery measures that meet the needs of the most vulnerable households and groups.

This study was conducted between June and October 2021 and is based on a survey of 7,743 individuals in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago. In those countries, the local Red Cross teams, which play a key role based on long-lasting relationships with communities, explored the perceptions of especially vulnerable populations, regarding four aspects: access and impact of information on COVID-19, knowledge and perception about vaccination, confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine, and the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic.

Notes and additional information:

Two years after the first case of COVID-19, the Americas region registers 2.7 million associated deaths, 1.7 billion doses of vaccines administered, and setbacks of nearly 30 years in the levels of extreme poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as an increase in gender inequality and child labour.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Red Cross has contributed to equitable access to vaccines and implemented COVID-19 response programs in the Americas by:

  • risk communication through adapted and contextualized approaches to communities, as well as community mobilization and hygiene promotion activities for 52 million people; specifically, 10 million have received information about the COVID-19 vaccine
  • the implementation of sanitation and hygiene activities involving 13 million people
  • supporting the immunization of 3.4 million individuals providing food or other assistance to 86 million and
  • assisting 358 thousand people with mental health services and psychosocial support.

For more information or to schedule interviews with specialists on the COVID-19 situation in the Americas region, please contact the Americas regional office in Panama: