As Delta Variant Spreads, Mexico’s Youth Leaders Take Action to Stop COVID-19
Battling misinformation & pandemic fatigue, young leaders strive to turn the tide of the public health crisis by reaching elders, protecting families & engaging Indigenous communities
Mexico City, Mexico (August 9, 2021) — As Mexico navigates a third wave of rising COVID-19 cases while reeling from prior surges, youth leaders are striving for change as the public health crisis looms on. While nationwide vaccine campaigns are making progress, with nearly 57 million vaccinated in a population close to 130 million, millions more remain at risk. Restrictions have been lifted in most communities, and conditions resemble normal life regarding business, transit and gatherings. With the highly contagious Delta variant becoming dominant in Mexico and the U.S., the border has been closed to non-essential travel.
While the life-saving potential of personal safety measures and public health precautions remains, pandemic fatigue, misinformation and economic factors are barriers to prevention. Confronting these challenges, a powerful force has emerged in Mexico’s COVID-19 fight: young leaders.
Youth Central to Spread, Central in Prevention
“I am a young man who likes community work and who will always look after others’ wellbeing, even if I must put my life at risk,” said Juan Victor Manuel Segundo Salvador from Oaxaca. “I will be there when others need it.”
Mexico has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with 241,936 deaths and nearing 2,900,000 million confirmed cases. Contributing factors are complex, including high underlying rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, placing the population at greater risk for serious illness from COVID-19. In addition to the health system’s response to COVID-19, there is an urgent need for fact-driven public health messaging to slow the spread of the virus through preventive behaviors.
“Just as young people play a significant role in spreading COVID-19, young people can play leading roles in stopping it,” said Yarishdy Mora, country director for Project HOPE in Mexico. “The power of youth leaders should never be underestimated, and Mexico has a deep history of youth leadership. It is natural that young people who want to make a positive change in their world have stepped forward to fight this historic pandemic.”
Through Mexico’s National Committee of Youth for the Prevention of COVID-19, a program that connects young leaders nationally while empowering them to address specific local needs, young people have trained to serve as outreach leaders to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As part of the Young Health Program’s commitment to youth – through trainings, projects and focused engagement, youth are reaching their communities and vulnerable populations with life-saving information. They are driven to protect their communities, families, cultural heritage and future.
Fighting Misinformation & Its Deadly Consequences
One of the greatest problems Mexico’s youth leaders are addressing is misinformation and its deadly consequences, a common theme in the global fight against COVID-19.
“The information that was spread was that the most affected population were adults. However, since the young population are those who remain unvaccinated, this group has become vulnerable and they are the ones who are getting sick during this third wave, because of their overconfidence as well as the lack of information, leading them to believe that because they do not have chronic diseases, they will not present a severe case of COVID-19,” said Eira Isabel Gil Arce of Tamaulipas.
Through the program, the youth leaders are using their positions as trusted voices from the inside of communities to combat misinformation and share life-saving facts about the disease, how it is spread and prevention.
“There is misinformation among the youth; some believe that because of their age, nothing serious will happen to them, or that they will not be infected,” said Lipni Daniela Santana Aspeitia from Quintana Roo “They believe in conspiracy theories or influencers telling them inaccurate information.” She described the role young people can play. “We can be mediators or communicators of reliable and accurate information. That is what we were trained for, to familiarize ourselves with the information, and to share it with our community and loved ones: to create awareness.”
Leveraging digital communications platforms to participate in trainings, gather information and engage with one another and audiences, youth leaders have exercised fluency with technology toward successful community outreach.
“Youth are the filter between the information being transmitted by media today and the elderly who are not familiar with these media,” said Juan Victor Manuel Segundo Salvador, Oaxaca. “Likewise, the youth are those who will continue having a great impact on the transmissibility of COVID-19. My project is to reach a younger population, since they are the filter of the information being spread and that can reach both the elderly and young adults.”
In Mexico and other global regions, distrust has played a role in how the public has either embraced or rejected pandemic precautions, safety measures and whether to take vaccines, as available. Daniela illustrated why delivering life-saving COVID-19 prevention information through trusted family members and community members is more effective than when the information comes from other sources.
“I believe that it is easier for people to learn and become mindful of the situation when the information comes from someone close to them, who has no interest in deceiving them, when a family member teaches and supports them in taking action at home,” said Jose Pablo Cruz Guzman of Chiapas.
Indigenous Communities & Culturally Competent Communicators
In Mexico, people in low-income and marginalized communities are disproportionately dying of COVID-19. “It is well known that my state of Oaxaca has high rates of poverty, and that there are families who live paycheck to paycheck. Where I live, there are deficiencies in terms of having access to basic services, such as drainage, drinking water, among many more,” said Juan Victor.
“In my community, 80% of the population speak the native dialectic Mazateco, myself included. And for my family and many more, the pandemic has made the lifestyle even harder in the sense that most of the families here are farmers and artisans. My community is truly a population submerged in the beliefs, traditions, and customs with which it was shaped from the beginning. Here bonds, communication and mutual well-being are and will always be the key to success as the society that we are,” Juan Victor said (Oaxaca). “However, because of these beliefs, people are very isolated from the things of the new era, with this I mean that they do not believe what people outside the community hear or say, because they continue to believe in their own people, they isolate themselves from the outside world and thus from the advances that have been made. The type of information that reached them was simple warning messages about the current situation… But nothing relevant about vaccines, like explaining what they are, their effects, their importance, their benefits, and many other things that they should know. For this reason, the community members do not show a very positive response, due to the different myths that emerged throughout this pandemic, precisely because they are more sociable among groups of people who share similar or identical ethnic characteristics. I wanted to reach everyone and as many as possible, and as I expected, my results were very successful…I used my skills as a Mazateco native speaker to help people who are not familiar with Spanish understand. Thank to this, I was able to capture the attention and interest of the people in my community and many places shared the same characteristics. My project can continue to grow, but now creating more content about COVID-19, in other dialects from my beautiful state of Oaxaca and thus reaching more people so that everyone acquires the knowledge they need to have to cope with this pandemic in the best way possible.”
“Our Culture of Closeness” – Family, Community & Heritage
“We Mexicans are characterized by our culture of closeness, where family ties are the basis of society,” said Jessica Xiadani Rivera Sánchez, Tabasco representative.
Motivated by initial successes, Mexican youth on the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight have a message for the global community to consider as similar struggles with pandemic fatigue, misinformation and other challenges pose sustained risks.
“Each one of us is affected in different ways,” said Daniela, who lost her grandmother and nearly lost her mother to COVID-19. “However, something new comes out of every crisis. Despite everything, the pandemic brings with it good things, the change of people’s perspective, the desire to grow, and the union of people. In Mexico, we continue to stand thanks to the empathy and desire to help others, which characterizes us as Mexicans and which we now see in our great doctors, nurses, and all health care workers giving their last breath to get people out of this great crisis. I am happy to know and share that many of my young colleagues are understanding the great impact that their decisions can have in the course of this pandemic,” said Juan Victor from Oaxaca.
“We are the example of change, we are those who aspire a prosperous future in discoveries, justice, an integral environment, and above all: to lead the way for a positive legacy for the new generations,” said Jessica Xiadani Rivera Sánchez.
“We believe the successes we’re seeing in Mexico can serve as models to inspire other young leaders in other communities around the world as our global community continues to fight COVID-19,” Mora concluded.
Isabel added, “Vaccines save lives!”
About Mexico’s National Committee of Youth COVID-19 Prevention
- Project HOPE, a global health and humanitarian organization, worked with allies in the public, private, academic, and nonprofit sectors to launch a National Committee of Youth for COVID-19 Prevention in Mexico, with funding support from AstraZeneca.
- AstraZeneca’s Young Health Program is part of their long-term commitment to youth. Established in 2010 as their Global Community Investment initiative and reaching more than 12 million people, the program is active in more than 30 countries on 6 continents around the world.
- Launched in February 2020, Mexico’s National Committee of Youth COVID-19 Prevention has trained 33 youth leaders to date who have reached over 8,000 community members with public health and personal safety information.
- Through participation in the committee, youth leaders gained expertise in the prevention of COVID-19 through a curriculum validated by the Ministry of Health and implemented by Project HOPE and Yo Quiero, Yo Puedo (I Want, I Can), a Mexico-based youth empowerment organization. Trained youth are now serving as the main disseminators of information among their families, communities and the country.
- Prioritizing the search for young leaders from communities hardest-hit by the pandemic, the Instituto de Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, or National System for the Integral Development of the Family, shared a list of 10 cities across Mexico that were the most affected by COVID-19.
- As a result of initial success and sustained need for community health solutions, the program will continue through the fall of 2021.
- The month-long training covers information about the virus and COVID-19, prevention measures and how the virus is spread; it also incorporates methods for maintaining physical and mental health during the pandemic. The goal is to increase resilience and help youth and their communities face the social, academic and work-related effects of the pandemic.
- The result is a nationwide youth-led pandemic response, focused on combating misinformation, preventing the spread of COVID-19, and fostering physical and mental resilience among youth, their families, and their communities. 34 youth leaders used their training to develop and implement projects to promote public health messaging customized for their, schools, universities and teaching hospitals, with a focus on honoring their indigenous communities and using messaging that is culturally contextualized to reach indigenous populations.
- Project HOPE and the Ministry of Education expanded this search to include participation from every state of the Mexican Republic and Mexico City, including equal gender representation among participants.
Facts & Figures
As of August 5, 2021, Source: WHO
- Mexico has had 241,936 deaths to COVID-19.
- 2,880,409 total confirmed cases.
- 56,872,930 vaccines have been administered in the country of nearly 130 million people.
Multimedia: All photos courtesy Yo Quiero, Yo Puedo, 2021
About Project HOPE
With the mission to place power in the hands of local health workers to save lives around the world, Project HOPE is a global health and humanitarian organization operating in more than 25 countries. Founded in 1958, we work side-by-side with local health systems to improve health and support community resilience. We work at the epicenter of today’s greatest health challenges, including infectious and chronic diseases; disasters and health crises; maternal, neonatal and child health; pandemic preparedness and response; mental health for health workers; and the policies that impact how health care is delivered. For more information, visit www.ProjectHOPE.org and follow us on Twitter @ProjectHOPEorg.