BY VANESSA GUZHA
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and the Health ministry yesterday partnered with Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust (AWET) in interfacing with religious leaders from across the country to mobilise for support for the country’s COVID-19 vaccination programme.
The faith leaders were drawn from religious groups including Christian, Islamic and African traditional religions.
Unicef spokesperson Elizabeth Mupfumira said faith leaders were critical partners in addressing barriers to the uptake of health and other essential services, including vaccines.
“Through the partnership with AWET, over 850 interfaith and community leaders have been trained to support, engage and mobilise their communities about integrated COVID-19 prevention and continuity of essential health, nutrition, education, child protection and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services,” Mupfumira said.
“The initiative aims to reach five million people across all provinces of Zimbabwe,” she added.
AWET national director Tendai Gudo said participants reflected on misinformation, distrust and barriers including social, religious and cultural barriers contributing to vaccine uptake hesitancy.
“Understanding and addressing these barriers is key for our partnership with local faith actors in increasing their abilities to counter false claims or address religious questions or other sensitive topics,” he said.
The religious leaders also noted with concern that the spread of too much unfiltered information and misinformation had undermined people’s trust in the COVID-19 vaccines.
Zimbabwe Council of Churches director for research, innovation and programme development Ronald Nare said faith leaders had a responsibility to provide fresh understanding and insight about the vaccines.
“We must mobilise faith groups to take direct actions to promote the well-being of children, families and the communities they serve,” Nare said.
Supreme Council of Zimbabwe president Sheikh Ishmael Duwa said he was the first Islamic leader in Zimbabwe to receive the vaccine in public and encourage congregants and the wider population to be vaccinated.
Phyllis Manungo of the Seventh Day Adventist Church said she would play a role in challenging misinformation circulating through the congregation platforms and social media space by promoting trust in accurate information sources such as government and