The Power of Trust: Countering Vaccine Hesitancy and Misinformation in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru

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Internews designed “The Power of Trust” to strengthen intercultural health networks, access to communication channels, and information to build trust around COVID-19 vaccines. Funded by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), the 11-month project ran from October 2021 to September 2022.

Internews and local partners maintained ongoing relationships with Indigenous, Afro-descendant, rural, last-mile, and other marginalized communities with insufficient health care, building capacities of local media sources and communicators to increase access to COVID-19 information. 

Members of Indigenous Araona communities in Bolivia are in danger of disappearing due to minimal access health services and few communication mechanisms. Internews, together with Fundación Construir and Rhizomatica, supported the installation of High Frequency (HF) radios in these communities and left community members prepared with the skills to operate and maintain these systems over the long term. As a result of this project, 50% of the Araona territory in Bolivia is now equipped with HF radio access. 

Similarly, Indigenous community members also installed radios in four communities in Putumayo, Peru and on the border with Colombia. With new technical knowledge to maintain HF radios, communities in Peru and Bolivia that previously lacked communications tools are now prepared to face urgent health emergencies provoked by COVID-19 in the long-run. 

Internews developed a pioneering dialogue around health issues with Indigenous, Afro-descendant and rural communities through the Internews Health Journalism Network (HJN)’s “Claves de Salud” series, which bridged traditional and Western medicine to explain complex health concepts and scientific news to communities. These events mark one of the first initiatives in the world to center Indigenous, Afro-descendant and rural community worldviews in public health discussions with an intercultural approach. 

In Colombia, Internews implemented project activities together with local partners Sinergias, SentARTE and Platohedro and worked primarily with last-mile communities with little-to-no internet connectivity. Community participants developed a radio show that prepares communities to face long-term critical health emergencies. As a result, community participants are now presenting a local radio program broadcast on Radio Waira, an Indigenous community radio station in Mocoa, Putumayo, which regularly reaches 500,000 listeners, including in the Peruvian Putumayo and part of Ecuador. 

In Peru, Internews worked with partners Servicios de Comunicación Intercultural (Servindi) and Instituto del Bien Común (IBC) in the Loreto region. IBC specifically works with Bora and Quechua Indigenous communities to build their capacities in audio production and HF radio use, equipping them to face health emergencies with an intercultural approach. Servindi worked with the Awajún, Purús and Wampis Indigenous communities to develop a health diagnostic report examining the impact of COVID-19 in the communities. This diagnostic gave authorities critical information to effectively address the most pressing health needs and identify areas most in need of medical attention. 

Throughout the project, Internews collaborated with local partners, community communicators, and media sources to adapt project activities to priority community needs. As a result, co-created training sessions actively centered participants by using local languages, cultural codes specific to each community, and content focused on participants’ concerns. In addition, Internews helped facilitate discussion spaces for community members to establish dialogue with health experts to bridge gaps across Western and traditional medicine in addressing COVID-19 and other health issues. 

As the pandemic evolved, Internews also identified changing health priorities among focus communities and adapted trainings to mitigate the perceived changes, allowing community members to more effectively reduce the spread of rumors related to COVID, vaccines, and other emerging health crises. Weekly radio programs on platforms like local Indigenous radio Radio Waira in Putumayo, Colombia incorporated intercultural approaches to discussing health topics to build trust. Furthermore, “The Power of Trust” also equipped community members in Bolivia and Peru with tools to self-sustain critical communication systems amidst rising emergencies and crises. Previously disconnected Indigenous communities in these countries learned to install and maintain high frequency radios, and eight Indigenous communities at risk of disappearance now have methods to coordinate care with other community leaders and request urgent medical attention during emergencies. 

CLICK HERE to learn more about Sinergias’ work, please find an interview Internews conducted with the organization.