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Empowering the younger generation to actively participate in disease prevention

We recently supported a project to engage with primary school children in Uganda around COVID-19 and vaccination through a captivating comic book, with funding from our BSI Communication and Engagement Grant scheme. Here, the organisers, Dr Gwokyalya Anna Maria and Dr Nakityo Innocent, share how they designed the project, its impact and lessons for the future.

Dr.Nakityo Innocent and Dr.Gwokyalya Anna Maria
Dr Gwokyalya Anna Maria and Dr Nakityo Innocent, authors of 'The Mugishas’ COVID-19 Tale'

Children are often overlooked in health education because it is assumed that in the young mind there are certain concepts that are way too complex for its understanding. We however found this notion to be untrue as we embarked on our project. This project’s aim was to increase knowledge and awareness on COVID-19 and its prevention, with emphasis on vaccination, among Ugandan children at primary school level of education (ages 6 to 12). The tool utilised in this education series was a comic book that we authored, titled The Mugishas’ COVID-19 Tale, a book with captivating illustrations and a message designed to entertain and educate the young mind.

In partnership with Makerere University Johns Hopkins University (MU-JHU) Research Collaboration, we were blessed to win the BSI Communication and Engagement Grant. This enabled us to execute this education project in five selected primary schools in Uganda, namely: Mbuya Primary School, Makerere Primary School, Namugongo Boys’ School, Lohana Academy and Nakasero Primary School. Each of these schools has on average 900-1,500 pupils from P1 to P7. Each class was divided into two to three streams with each comprising 30-50 students. In order to have more effective sessions we chose one stream per class. Before the children read the book, we used a simple questionnaire to have a more objective picture of what the children already knew. It was evident that children knew a lot about COVID-19 and how to prevent it, but very little about why. 

Understanding ‘why’

We used this information to guide our sessions so that, in addition to the reinforcement of what they knew, we also helped them understand why. A stellar decision we made was giving each of the participants a chance to read. We got to appreciate the uniqueness of each child and the power of inclusivity. Some of the children exhibited a high level of confidence, word articulation and story interpretation.

The sessions were interactive but some of the discussions that really caught the children’s interest were about the COVID-19 vaccines. Children shared mind-provoking myths and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine that definitely required factual explanations. Some of them had questions about the eligibility criteria for vaccination of children while others expressed their fear for side effects of the vaccine that they had heard about. The children could agree that there was more to learn from the sessions than merely reading the book.

students reading the comic book

Inspiring children

The exercise led to a tremendous increase in knowledge (49.2%) among the participants on various aspects regarding COVID-19, such as the mode of transmission, symptoms, prevention of spread and most importantly, COVID-19 vaccination. With the application of this knowledge, the participants can ably protect themselves and their neighbours from contracting COVID-19, knowing that they too are a possible risk group.

One of the most important parts of every read-aloud session was understanding the essence of the story. In the book, we tried to paint a picture of children being the centre of change in the fight against the pandemic within a familiar community. This inspired the children to do the same in their communities.

Agents of positive change

We learned that children, just like adults, are an important part of the community that require attention and that they too can be agents of positive change in their respective communities and so, they should never be left out when it comes to community activities. They should be engaged in a way unique to them that is also captivating.

We also appreciated that comic writing is a highly effective health education avenue for children, not only regarding COVID-19, but also other health issues of public health concern.

Thank you

Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to:

  • The British Society for Immunology for providing the much-needed financial support for the success of this project.
  • MU-JHU for partnering with us and the mentorship throughout the project.
  • The team for persevering through it all until the end.


Dr Gwokyalya Anna Maria, Uganda Martyrs’ Hospital, Lubaga, Kampala, Uganda
Dr Nakityo Innocent, St. Francis Hospital Nsambya, Kampala, Uganda