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Diversity Impact on Vaccine Equity in Algeria

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Minority Rights Group conducted research on language, ethnicity and Covid-19 vaccine confidence among indigenous Amazigh communities in Algeria. This bulletin complements the findings of the first instalment published in February 2022.

This report provides a brief analysis of the monitoring efforts from January 2021 (the beginning of the vaccine campaign in Algeria) to March 2022. The findings of this study are drawn from social media monitoring of Facebook conducted through CrowdTangle (based on tracking keyword combinations), the monitoring of the official Algerian news site, Algérie Presse Service (APS) through a social media listening tool, and four focus group discussions with Amazigh representatives.

The report highlights the following key findings:

  1. Information shared on vaccination is heavily controlled by the Algerian government as part of its campaign to fight the spread of fake news, but also the general crackdown on civil society’s freedom of expression. The official news agency, APS, remains the main source of information on vaccination, and research indicated that there is widespread dissatisfaction about their publications on vaccination.
    Moreover, although APS is available in Arabic, French and Tamazight, information is not equally available in the three languages on their official Facebook pages (no posts at all in Tamazight about vaccination between December 2020 and December 2021). Overall, there were dramatically different levels of official information available in Tamazight (an official national language, albeit one that was recognized as such relatively recently), compared to Arabic (an official national language) and French (not an official national language).
  2. The process of identifying content posted by Amazigh users on social media was more difficult than we had hoped for, due to the limited use of Tamazight online, and even more limited use to discuss issues related to Covid-19, which meant it was often not possible to use language as a differentiator. Reliance on surnames, placenames and other content mentions required a more manual data analysis approach.
  3. Posts by social media users who were identifiably Amazigh were significantly more likely to express no confidence in Covid-19 vaccines. However, when no and low confidence scores are added together, the proportions even out. Reasons for reservations concerning the vaccine also differ. Content posted by identifiably Amazigh individuals was half as likely to revolve around vaccine safety and twice as likely to involve conspiracy theories. This was in spite of the fact that identifiably Amazigh comments did not indicate higher level of distrust in authorities than comments by general social media users.
  4. In some Southern Amazigh areas (Ghardaia), effective local government systems have been established where distrust in political authorities captured in our research appeared lower. We found that local communities relied quite significantly on the channels of those traditional authorities, which disseminate information in the local variety of Tamazight, including on Covid-19. Use of local radio stations delivering messages in the Kabyle variety of Tamazight was also considered as an effective way to fill the information gap in Tamazight, which can particularly affect already marginalized groups, such as older Amazigh women who often do not speak/understand Arabic or French.

Although results are complex and not definitive, they lead to a preliminary indication that language and ethnicity do matter when using social media to convey vaccination information and pro-vaccination campaigns. Unlike reports from some other African settings, our data supports the view that in Algeria vaccine confidence may be a more important barrier to vaccine uptake than access restrictions. Lack of accessibility or linguistic disparities in health care and in particular fact-based information on vaccines contributes to the risk of minorities having a less well-informed understanding of the issue and as a result lacking facts to counter misinformation.

In the current Algeria context, our research suggests that investing in national level efforts may reap low results and that a more effective approach would be to invest in local level efforts, with the visible involvement of trusted health professionals, religious leaders and others not associated with national politics, which carries a high risk of wholescale discounting or disregarding of information as a result of strong levels of distrust.

This Bulletin was published in the context of MRG’s Diversity: Impact on Vaccine Equality (DIVE) programme (2021-2022).

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