Involving communities in the implementation of plans of action, listening to them and learning from their experiences is a key approach of the Zika response strategy developed in the region. It was with the aim of establishing a platform to share knowledge, experience and innovation amongst actors responding to Zika that the workshop Stronger Together: Involving communities in Zika response (“Más Fuertes Juntos: Involucrando Comunidades en la Respuesta al Zika”) was held in Antigua, Guatemala, from the 23-27 of April 2018.

Over 80 people participated in the event organized by the Knowledge for Health Project and sponsored by USAID. Amongst them were representatives from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Save the Children, The Caribbean Public Health Agency, Breakthrough-ACTION, CARE, the Pan American Development Foundation and UNICEF.

Members of the Community Action on Zika (CAZ) project from IFRC and Save the Children participated in a variety of experts’ panels, sharing experiences and lessons learned in community ownership and empowerment, community engagement, social and behavioural change, vector control and surveillance with ovitraps.

Monica Posada, Community Engagement and Accountability Delegate from IFRC, stressed the importance of community engagement for the success of the project: “We mustn’t forget that community empowerment isn’t just about sharing knowledge. The CAZ project aims to strengthen community organizations and networks with tools, guidelines and materials that are adapted to the context of Zika prevention.”

During the workshop, participants could take part in different forums to discuss community engagement strategies, such as promoting initiatives of care and support to children affected by the Congenital Zika Syndrome and psychosocial support for families.

During one of the sessions, members of Breakthrough-ACTION introduced the Zika Prevention Behaviour Matrix. The matrix is based on evidence collected in different countries through studies of knowledge, attitudes and practices of the population and identifies which behavioural changes are of paramount importance in communities, allowing partners to implement targeted actions.

Emphasising the importance of behavioural change, Ariel Habed, the CAZ project’s director (Save the Children), explained that: “Working in coordination with both governments and the municipal authorities, as well as involving community-based organisations through a participative process, is key to achieve a significant change of behaviour and a greater impact in the fight against Zika. The CAZ project works with governments and other actors at the national and local level to build tangible skills that will guarantee that interventions will continue even after the project has ended”.

One of the event’s most significant moments was the presentation of parents that have children with microcephaly. They shared their experience, explaining how they are applying psychosocial techniques and providing care and support to their children.

This activity has been possible thanks to the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and was carried out in partnership with Save the Children.