by Siyabonga Gema ‒ HST Communications Officer
One of the identified drivers of the persistent COVID-19 epidemic ‒ which, as early as February this year, had affected 728 708 people in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) ‒ is vaccine hesitancy. This is especially prevalent in rural areas where a majority of people lack basic information on the benefits of taking the COVID-19 vaccination.
Since April 2023, the HST Global Vax project, embedded in the SA SURE PRO programme and funded through the Task Force for Global Health, has rolled out community vaccination in the Zululand and uMgungundlovu Districts of KwaZulu-Natal, providing the platform for community dialogues in the COVID-19 vaccine, and making the vaccine available to willing community members. The purpose is to improve the uptake of COVID-19 vaccination in six sub-districts in KwaZulu-Natal Province. This project works closely with the Department of Health in the district and with civil society to bring health services into the community.
On 21 and 24 November 2023, the Zululand-based Global Vax team hosted two community vaccination events in Babanango and Hlophekhulu in Ulundi. HST brought a number of health services to the community, including cervical cancer screening and HIV testing and counselling. The first event took place at Babanango Community Hall, where 120 people were vaccinated. Members of the public engaged with health workers from the KZN Department of Health and HST. The second session was held at Hlophekhulu Community Hall and 128 people were vaccinated.
HST's Cervical Cancer Prevention, Access and Control (CCPAC) Project bus at Hlophekhulu Community Hall, where cervical cancer screening and testing services were offered to the community
In February this year, the KZN Department of Health reported that 29 351 cases had been identified in Zululand District, with 28 651 recoveries. What these statistics reflect is the rapid rate at which people are recovering from the COVID-19 virus, which is largely due to the ramped-up efforts of making the vaccine available to the public. An important role played by the healthcare workers was to provide factual information on the COVID-19 vaccine, to debunk popular myths.
HST's health workers administering the COVID-19 vaccine at Babanango Community Hall
Udaya Veeramachaneni, Global Vax Project Manager, says that there is still some work to do to address the COVID-19 vaccine myths that prevent people from taking the vaccine: "To tackle these myths effectively, community engagement and collaboration with trusted local leaders are essential. Clear and concise communication, along with informed healthcare workers, will play a pivotal role in dispelling myths and encouraging more community members to make informed decisions about COVID-19 vaccination.
Addressing these myths is not only about individual protection, but also about safeguarding vulnerable populations who may be at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. It is through such community-based initiatives, ongoing education, and joint efforts that we can collectively work towards increasing vaccine uptake, and ultimately mitigating the impact of COVID-19 in these areas."
Members of the public who wish to receive the COVID-19 vaccine can access a number of readily available sources of credible information and contact details, or contact their nearest healthcare facility.
National Health Hotline: 0800 029 999
WhatsApp Support Line: 0600 123 456
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