COVID-19 vaccination coverage is on the rise in some of Africa’s most fragile humanitarian settings as a two-year project funded by the European Union enters its last four months.
At the start of 2022, the COVID-19 vaccination rate was less than 5% on average in the 16 participating countries. That rate is now closing in on 30% – the continent’s average – among the 14 countries whose data was available in January.
The countries participating in the €16 million grant project are Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Tanzania.
To achieve those rising numbers, national health workers trained by WHO experts have been administering vaccines in urban hubs, remote villages, refugee and displacement camps, workplaces, public spaces and elsewhere.
“We don’t wait for the people to come to the vaccination sites. We go to the rural areas, to allow these populations to be vaccinated without having to travel and abandon their work in the fields, which is very precious to them,” said Daré Rabiou, regional director of public health, population and Social Affairs in Maradi, Niger.
Rachida Ibrahim, a nurse at a health center in Kouroungoussao, elaborated on that way of working: “Every morning we vaccinate people against COVID-19. When there’s nobody left to vaccinate, we get on the motorbike and go to a village to vaccinate there also.”
Some of the target countries now have an even higher rate of fully vaccinated people than Africa’s average. These are the Central African Republic, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Mozambique, Somalia and Tanzania.
In Liberia, where about 80% of the population has been fully vaccinated, health authorities and WHO staff worked with community mobilizers on outreach tactics such as home visits and vaccination campaigns in outdoor markets.
“I went from house to house in a community and met each member of the household and told them the importance of the COVID vaccine,” said Jerry Barway, a community mobilizer in Liberia.
In Somalia, 42% of people were fully vaccinated by the end of 2022. Among these were some of the hardest-to-reach communities, such as nomads, refugees and people living in camps after fleeing drought and conflict. Project teams have so far fully vaccinated almost half of Somalia’s internally displaced people.
From its start, the project has prioritized the most vulnerable, such as health workers, older people, and those living through humanitarian crises. In nine of the project countries, 56% of people of people living in refugee or displacement camps, along with their host communities, have been fully vaccinated, according to project data.
Most countries saw the biggest jump in their coverage rates after vaccination campaigns that were held from September to December of 2022. In Cameroon, for example, the number of vaccinated people doubled after a mass-vaccination campaign in November.
Mozambique has been one of the project’s success stories; nearly two-thirds of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated. Among that group is Julieta Jose, a resident of the Malika camp for internally displaced people.
“I’m very happy about the visit from the team because some people here in the community were never vaccinated,” she said. “It’s the best way to prevent COVID-19. I told everyone I know to come and get it.”
The number of health workers trained to administer COVID-19 vaccines rose from about 130 000 less than a year ago to almost 1.6 million at the end of January; about 1000 of these were deployed in South Sudan in late 2022, helping raise the coverage rate from one of the world’s lowest to about 20%. The workers had to learn the cold-chain requirements of the vaccines, service-delivery procedures and more. Among those trained was Isaac Chol.
“I know that if they all get vaccinated, my community will be free of this bad disease,” he said.
The work described in this story is made possible by a €16 million contribution to WHO from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).
Source: World Health Organization