Lumad leaders triumph over disinformation in vaccination drive

CHEERS TO MindaNews for spotlighting effective strategies for the vaccination of Higaonon Lumads in Talakag, Bukidnon. The article written by Mindanao-based journalist Froilan Gallardo described the campaign by  a non-governmental organization (NGO) to promote vaccinations by using only the Higaonon language to counter disinformation in social media about the supposed harm  vaccines could cause. 

The local government’s COVID-19 inoculation campaign began in March 2021 and very few came to get their shots. But by February this year, 70 percent of the community had been vaccinated. 

Peace Crops, an NGO, produced a variety of information materials to ensure the communication campaign’s success, such as posters, tarpaulins, and comics. The materials were distributed in barangays Tikalaan, Indulang, Lantud and San Rafael in Talakag, which has mostly Higaonon residents.

The report emphasized that the key to overcoming the problem is the Higaonon-centered and Higaonon-led communication campaign. 

Peace Crops attributed to two factors the effectiveness of the materials in persuading the once-hesitant Lumad to be vaccinated. They were able to gain the support and participation of the Lumad leaders who were the first to be vaccinated and whose faces and names were featured on tarpaulins instead of the usual celebrities or politicians. The use of the Higaonon language in all the materials and the message from their trusted leaders was simple: vaccines are safe.

Peace Crops also held focused group discussions with Higaonon leaders before creating the communication program. The meetings refined the campaign strategy and revealed that the rampant vaccine hesitancy among the Higaonons did not stem from cultural beliefs, but rather from disinformation from radio, television, and social media which had even one of the leaders who was also a barangay kagawad (village councilor) believing.

As of January 2022, the municipal government of Talakag had met the target of 70 percent coverage of its over 72,000 residents. The success of the program demonstrated the role of community leaders, whose examples encouraged entire families to flock to inoculation centers. 

Media should publicize these success stories. National media organizations should give them more mileage, following through with how vaccination programs have succeeded in other communities. 

The account should remind government at all levels that a program can fail or suffer delays because of lack of communication. Given our numerous languages, the effective use of Higaonon in Talakag shows how much can be done by working with community leaders. Note, however, that this was a partnership between the Higaonon and an NGO. Shouldn’t the national government take note?