By Leocadia Bongben
Cameroon is targeting to get at least 13,944,491million of its population with Covid-19 jabs. But for now, only about 418,855 Cameroonians have been vaccinated. Even more, only 160,803 persons are fully vaccinated.
“A total of 3 percent of the target population has already received the first dose. And 1.2% of this same population is fully vaccinated. The proportion of health personnel vaccinated is 40.1% for the first dose and 18.1% for those fully vaccinated”, vaccination situation report of October 27.
Presently, 102,499 persons have had Covid-19 and 1686 deaths have been recorded as Cameroon grapples under the third wave of Covid-19.
In May, 2021, the World Health Assembly the world policy body set the target of 10 percent global vaccination by September, 30, 2021.
While 90 percent of high-income countries have hit the target, for Cameroon and other low-income countries, this target has not been met.
Low vaccination has been attributed to several factors, among them, the lack of information on side effects, fake news on side effects, religion, culture and government policies.
But according to the EPI, since the beginning of vaccination in April, there have been 501 minor side effects, 38 serious side effects out of the 472,156 vaccines administered. The most common side effects are headaches and pains on the injection spot.
According to Prof. Yap Boum, an Epidemiologist, “A study carried out in the ten regions of the country revealed that the people doubt the efficacy of vaccines, but vaccines are showing high efficacy for preventing deaths and hospitalization.”
Some reports have blamed low vaccination on the communication strategy which was neither validated nor implemented.
The gaps which initially drove low vaccination were the lack of involvement of the health personnel in the COVID-19 vaccination sensitization campaign.Besides, “sensitization campaign on COVID-19 vaccination is not adapted to the profiles of the hesitant population and their geographical location”, the United Nations Humanitarian Office, OCHA reported.
Another worry raised was about the two-dose vaccines not encouraging the population.
But, going by the Deputy Country Director of the Expanded Programme of Immunization, EPI, Andreas Njoh Ateke, over six months, many Cameroonians have been vaccinated with the two-dose AstraZeneca.
He added that other single-dose vaccines like the Johnson and Johnson are a plus making it easier for mobile teams to vaccinate the population with a single dose.
Despite the low vaccination and gaps, there are regions in the country with high vaccination rates like the Far North, Center and East regions.
What has actually worked in these regions that other can emulate?
Community leaders luring the population to get vaccinated
It is 7:00am on a sunny Monday morning at the Djungolo neighbourhood in Yaounde, in the Centre region of Cameroon. Ekobo Isidore, president of Djungolo Health District Committee is applying the last stroke of the brush to polish his shoes and ready to move out for the day.
He is going to give a talk on the need for Covid-19 vaccination in an association that has accepted to him and his colleagues a listening ear. He also visits and talks to families, religious and traditional rulers among other groups in the community.
It is a door-to-door work that they do, and all the times, they talk with community members who in turn spread the message in their communities.
“We pass our prevention messages through religious leaders and local government officials who are trusted opinion leaders people listen more to them”, Ekobo stated.
“Traditional rulers call us from time to time to take vaccines to those they have convinced to get a jab”, Ekobo recounts how they have been able to convince traditional and religious leaders.
Ekobo says “We are mobilized to fight Covid-19. As a structure of dialogue and community participation, we are in charge of sensitizing the population, convincing them to take the Covid-19 vaccination and practice barrier measures”.
Community health agents, or social mobilisers, spend days convincing the population, to adhere to vaccination which is not easy with misinformation on social media, he added.
“We visit associations, during their meetings spend time, to discuss to know why they are against vaccination. We send messages to churches, and mosques. We also have advocacy and community engagement meetings where we invite traditional rulers, religious leaders, Divisional Officers, Influencers and mayors to discuss with them.We try to convince health workers who are reticent about vaccination”.
The head of state cannot bring something to kill all Cameroonians, who will he govern? We know government needs the population in good health, to work and pay taxes and if every-body is sick who will pay? That is why, government is putting enough means to prevent and ensure the health of the community, these are some issues we raise to convince them.
“I am vaccinated and I have not been transformed into a horse, and there is no 5g network in my body,”, i tell the population to convince them and stress that vaccine is free, efficient and enables us to prevent Covid-19, Ekobo stressed.
“Local leaders, working with over 2300 community mobilizers and 1450 vaccination teams, were crucial to the success of a rapid COVID-19 vaccination drive that saw 52 000 people vaccinated across Cameroon in just five days in July”, WHO states.
According to the EPI deputy boss, the role of the community leaders has been very important in getting the numbers.
“Regions where vaccination coverage is high like in the Far North, Centre and East regions, have actors who hold a lot in reinforcing community participation, and the use of local stakeholder to improve communication and adhesion. This has partly helped to get these regions to better performance than the other half of the country”, Ateke said.
“We think this is an effort which is being learnt by others regions and gradually all the regions are trying to improve.”, he added.
Region like the South and Southwest, bottom on the vaccination table have certainly have not leverage on the community leaders.
“For the Southwest region being the last on the table this is a major call for concern and effort out of campaign are explored. The frontline workers have been trying to vaccinate in groups of enterprises, but they are still at the bottom though in these last days they are vaccinating more persons. The insecurity in the region has really limited access to vaccination services”, Ateke said.
Community leaders have a lot of impact both in out of campaign and during vaccination campaigns to scale-up vaccination.
Ateke maintains that “Given that Covid-19 is a public health issue for which vaccination is one of the most effective ways to prevent this infectious disease, vaccination campaigns have proven to be a great way to get vaccine closer to the population and to rapidly improve vaccine uptake”.
“Campaigns can be an opportunity to rapidly improve vaccine uptake though they are relatively more costly than the routine vaccination intervention but they are more cost effective because they help to rapidly immunize a huge number of persons within a shorter period of time” the deputy EPI Boss said.
Cameroon had the first vaccination campaign on April 12, when the country received the first consignment of Covid-19 vaccines, Sinopharm from the Chinese government.
To kick-start the campaign, Health Minister Manaouda Malachie took the first jab (televised for all to see) but, at this stage, hesitancy seemed to be at the peak so may doubted public vaccination.
Health officials then launched the second vaccination campaign from 7-10 July to reach a larger number of people.
During the Covid-19 vaccination campaigns in July, community leaders were major actors playing a determinate role in mobilizing the target population in their communities so they are really indispensable, Ateke thinks.
“We need to have the proper messengers, who are mostly the health workers, but also community leaders, for community engagement to move forward getting the vaccine and protecting population. If we have a large number of people who need hospitalization admission, it can be a challenge for the health system”, Yap stressed.
For the upcoming campaign from the November 17-21, every actor is key in improving vaccination so the health personnel- medical doctors, health workers are very vital and have been integrated in the communication group of actors, Ateke stated.
It is good to note that at the moment we have been able to vaccinated more than 30 percent of the health workers, they are being used to pass across messages to other health workers and to the population, he concluded.
“This OUTBREAK story was supported by Code for Africa’s WanaData program as part of the Data4COVID19 Africa Challenge hosted by l’Agence française de développement (AFD), Expertise France, and The GovLab”