A multicolored image of a health worker preparing a vaccine

Five Ways African Community Organizations Are Leading the Way in COVID-19 Vaccination

by Gladys Onyango, Director of Program Learning & Impact

Photos courtesy of Wandikweza

Approximately 67 percent of the global population have received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to date, representing a remarkable achievement in the drive to accelerate the end of COVID-19. However, we are still far from declaring victory. Africa, despite great progress with mass vaccination drives, is lagging behind.

The World Health Organization estimates that so far in 2022, African countries have vaccinated only about 15 percent of their adult population. Governments are learning that the availability of vaccines alone is not enough and that diverse approaches are needed to increase COVID-19 vaccine access, confidence, and uptake. Community health organizations remain instrumental to increasing COVID-19 coverage rates in Africa due to their proximity to communities, as well as cultural and community knowledge. Here are just some of the ways that we have seen community health champions stepping up and taking action to promote COVID-19 vaccine access, confidence, and uptake in their communities.

Targeting vulnerable, underserved and hard-to-reach populations
Community outreaches and door-to-door visits are helping to reach populations that are often overlooked in government mass vaccination drives, such as people living in remote, hard-to reach areas with poor infrastructure, the elderly, people working in the informal sector, persons with disabilities, or those who are unable to read or access mainstream COVID prevention messages. Pauline Keronyai and her organization Nama Wellness Community Center in Mukono, Eastern Uganda are training community health workers in COVID-19 education, symptom-screening, and home-based care. They have managed to vaccinate 95% of all residents over 50 years of age in their sub-county since becoming accredited as a COVID-19 vaccination site.

A community health worker gives a COVID-19 vaccination

In Baringo County in Western Kenya, Dandelion Africa initiated mobile vaccination in over 44 villages with their mobile Back Pack Nurse sites. “We have not had any deaths related to COVID-19 in the last two months because most people are aware of the preventive measures, hand hygiene, and vaccination,” says Wendo Aszed, executive director.

Countering COVID-19 vaccine myths and misinformation
Community health organizations are instrumental in countering myths and rumors that are contributing to vaccine hesitancy in many parts of Africa. In Malawi, Joseph Kandiyesa and his organization Kindle Outreach worked with Chisomo Radio (a local radio station) in a partnership that has seen them air 20 interactive, weekly radio programs. In these programs, listeners across six districts can call in to access accurate information on COVID testing and COVID vaccination. They can also pose questions regarding myths that they’ve heard regarding the vaccine to health experts and local community and faith leaders. People are more likely to respond to trusted figures in their communities; this strategy has resulted in an increase of people reporting to health centers to get COVID vaccines in the districts reached by the radio program.

Supporting Ministries of Health
Community health organizations are supporting governments with valuable logistical assistance in transporting and distributing vaccines in hard-to-reach areas in a timely manner. Working closely with the Dowa district health office and local leaders, Wandikweza trained mobile vaccine teams, who have been able to vaccinate 9,645 people. Executive director Mercy Chikosi Kafotokoza notes, “It has strengthened our relationship with the district.”

Mobile vaccine team in Malawi

In Rwanda, Michel Musiikare and the team at Health Builders are working in close partnership with government health centers to ensure vaccines are delivered on time to the vaccination sites to avoid stockouts and maintain the cold chain. They’ve also collaborated on data management and educating the public on the importance of additional doses and boosters. The districts they are working in record significantly higher vaccine coverage rates compared to the national average.

Integrating COVID-19 vaccination into primary care
Community-based health organizations are leveraging their existing presence and trusted relationships with their patients to offer the COVID-19 vaccine when patients come to access primary care, antenatal care, and other regular services. Robert Korom and his colleagues at Penda Health say, “Before Penda offered the vaccine, so many of our patients had to travel across town, taking time off of work to get the jab. This is enabling us to meet our patients’ health needs on their own terms.” Maternity Africa in Tanzania has incorporated COVID-19 vaccines as part of its family planning, cervical cancer screening, and treatment outreaches with great success, says director Michael Hynds.

Consolidating gains and building preparedness for future pandemics
We are also learning that many community organizations involved in COVID-19 response efforts have been able to build key capabilities (technical, logistical, partnerships and linkages, for example) that make them important allies for consolidating the gains made so far, in addition to building strong health systems that are prepared and able to effectively respond to future pandemics. For instance, as COVID-19 vaccination focus gradually shifts to children and youth, community organizations are well placed to leverage their existing relationships to help in sustaining public health measures (e.g. hand-washing) and conducting outreaches in schools and other spaces to influence vaccine attitudes and uptake among children and young adults who many governments find to be hard to reach.

Even as the world begins to transition beyond the acute phase of COVID, let us not forget the vital role that community health organizations have played in the fight against the pandemic so far. Now more than ever, these organizations hold the keys to sustaining the gains during this pandemic and building strong health systems for the future. It is imperative that we in the philanthropy sector resource them with ample, flexible funding to ensure these solutions reach those who need them most.

If you want to take action, please contact us. We will gladly connect you with any of the organizations highlighted or others in our community of 300+ visionary organizations. We would also welcome the opportunity to hear about your own learnings from your COVID-19 vaccination rollout efforts.