Feature: Namibian frontline workers champion health education on COVID-19 vaccines to boost inoculation

2021-05-15 13:55:45 GMT2021-05-15 21:55:45(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

by Ndalimpinga Iita

WINDHOEK, May 15 (Xinhua) -- On Friday, Maggy Brown, a health community worker assigned to a far-flung village in the northern part of Namibia, hung up on a call on the mobile phone. She provided information to a community member about COVID-19 vaccines and other safety and hygiene protocols.

Brown is one of the health care workers in Namibia educating locals about the COVID-19 vaccines.

"Some people don't have factual information, and others are uncertain about the vaccines. I must educate them," she narrated.

Frontline workers and health experts in Namibia are championing awareness on COVID-19 vaccines to bridge information gaps and boost inoculation as the country battles a rising number of COVID-19 cases. Namibia has so far recorded 50,949 confirmed cases, with 705 deaths.

The robust public education follows after the country rolled out the COVID-19 vaccination program under the existing Expanded Program on Immunization. The country commenced inoculation on March 19, 2021, after receiving the Sinopharm vaccines donated by the Chinese government. It has also since rolled out vaccination of AstraZeneca and vaccine doses from the COVAX facility countrywide.

The public awareness efforts form part of a communication strategy crafted to aid COVID-19 vaccine rollout, said Kalumbi Shangula, minister of Health and Social Services.

"Some of the key messages of the campaign and efforts aim to educate, demystify misconceptions and inform the public about the COVID-19 vaccines," he said. Information is provided to the public by notices, billboards, local media and at the vaccination centers, among other platforms.

So far, the Health Ministry has established more than 300 vaccination sites in different health districts around the country, complemented by capacity building for local health workers.

The public education efforts have since been decentralised to the grassroots level, with each regional health office staff playing their part. These include training regional and district health workers, local officials, and health managers to provide factual information about the vaccines at the grassroots level.

"The health care workers providing the vaccines in the whole country are also educating the public about the possible minor side effects of the vaccines," Shangula said.

Intrinsically, when the northeast Zambezi region received vaccine doses, the team set up an information desk with a designated health care worker educating all persons interested in vaccination, said Agnes Mwilima, Zambezi region health director.

"We have a dedicated desk providing information on the vaccines and COVID-19 pandemic. All who come first arrive at a table where the health care workers explain to them the type of vaccines, and the anticipated minor side effects and broader benefits," Mwilima said.

Mwilima stressed that this was done not only to ensure that the people get factual information to make an informed decision but also to reassure the public that participation is voluntary.

"We are targeting everyone willing to come and boost their immunity. It is voluntary," she added.

Since the Kavango East and West regions received their first 10,000 doses of vaccines, robust public awareness sessions have been conducted. This was done through local media broadcast in indigenous languages, complemented by other platforms, according to the regional health director, Timea Ngwira.

Meanwhile, the hands-on approach of community engagement is bearing fruits for the country. So far, 47,632 persons have received the first dose of Sinopharm and AstraZeneca since March 19.

"This is indeed an encouraging positive public response. We call upon Namibians to go and get vaccinated," said Shangula.

Local political leaders are also educating locals on the vaccines by getting vaccinated.

Erginus Endjala, governor of the Omusati region, said he got vaccinated to lead by example.

"I also encourage the community in the region to disregard fake news or misinformation and focus on safeguarding their health. That way, we reduce the chances of us getting severely sick. It will also help us reach our target at a regional level," Endjala said.

The Namibian government intends to vaccinate 60 percent of its total population.

In the interim, plans are underway to increase vaccination sites to ease access to the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Health Ministry.

"With more vaccination centers being opened up in our various districts, we encourage everyone to get vaccinated," Shangula said. Enditem