With the rise of the Delta variant, many countries are experiencing COVID surges. Kenya is currently in its fourth wave, with daily infections reaching more than1,300 a day by the beginning of August (a 17.5% positivity rate) and continuing to rise. Uganda hit its second wave in June, with more than 1,000 new COVID cases daily.
Although periodic lockdowns in both countries have helped to temporarily quell disease spread, they are unsustainable without mass vaccinations. The full disease burden also remains unknown, as testing rates are low—by mid-July, only 2.07 million tests were administered in Kenya, and 1.4 million in Uganda.
Unfortunately, due to significant disparities in access, Africa is still the least vaccinated continent: despite comprising nearly 18% of the world’s population, only 1.1% of Africans are fully vaccinated. In many countries, the pandemic has pushed health system capacities to the brink, which both complicates addressing COVID, and treating preventable but deadly diseases like malaria and pneumonia.
While recent data from Kenya shows people are more willing to get vaccinated—with acceptance rates soaring from 51% to 72% and hesitancy rates dwindling from 48.8% to 25.4%—only 2.2% are vaccinated, and there are not enough vaccines to meet demand. Only 1.3% of Ugandans are fully vaccinated (2.5% have received at least one dose), and vaccines are coming in piecemeal.
When time comes, community health workers (CHWs) will be integral to reaching all people. As trusted members of their communities, they will generate demand for vaccines by providing accurate information on vaccine efficacy, adverse effects, and tracking and reporting on vaccinations. But to do that, CHWs themselves need to be protected and vaccinated.
Living Goods is working to support national and subnational governments in Uganda and Kenya to strengthen their health systems, and to protect and support CHWs so they can effectively carry out their roles. We are reducing barriers to CHWs accessing the vaccine by providing transportation allowances and engaging in education to dispel misconceptions and drive uptake. Further, we are ensuring that CHWs have personal protective equipment (PPE)—some secured through the Africa Region Global Fund, Africa CDC, and Uganda Country Coordinating Mechanism—and targeted incentives that compensate them for the additional burden they are taking on.
To support government efforts for widespread vaccine rollout, we’re continuing to update and adjust our digital app workflows to capture COVID-related information about screening and referrals, home-based isolation, tracking and monitoring uptake of vaccines, and follow-ups on testing and counselling.
The lack of vaccines is protracting the pandemic and is a threat to the health of all people. We call upon the global community and governments to not only invest in securing vaccines but to also ensure equitable distribution, especially for frontline health workers like CHWs and other at-risk groups. If not now, when? Vaccines for all people is a matter of global security.