By: Joslyn Walker (HST's Health Systems Strengthening Programme Manager: SA SURE Project)
HST's Driver Mobiliser, Lungile Mngadi, engages the national Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, together with KwaZulu-Natal's provincial Health MEC, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, flagging the critical TB and HIV services that the Health Systems Trust supports the department with in addition to COVID-19 prevention initiatives.
Health Systems Trust (HST) was a proud participant in the launch of the Global Vax campaign on 3 June 2022 by the South African Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, and the United States (US) Chargé d'Affaires, Heather Merritt.
The event centred on grassroots community engagement and highlighted the availability of integrated treatment and care services at Caluza Sports Centre in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, encouraging community members to access these services in their communities.
In South Africa, the Global Vax campaign is run as a joint partnership between the US Government, the National Department of Health, and implementing partners funded through the U.S President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), such as HST.
The launch event provided an opportunity for community members to not only receive their COVID-19 vaccination jab, but also a variety of additional services, including HIV and tuberculosis (TB) testing and treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) initiation, referrals for medical male circumcision, eye testing, dental services, and pap smears.
Community members and dignitaries attending the launch.
As part of the proceedings, HST showcased its programme for community-based antiretroviral therapy (ART) support through offering HIV and TB testing and treatment initiation, the availability of mobile units as community outreach points for chronic medicine collection through the Central Chronic Medicine Dispensing and Distribution (CCMDD) programme, and nurse-managed pick-up points that provide ongoing ART services and support in the community.
The Minister, Chargé d'Affaires and other dignitaries met the HST team on the ground and learnt about the work that we do in communities to strengthen health services aimed at epidemic control.
Through the Global Vax campaign, the South African government has set a target to vaccinate 70% of the population by December 2022 against COVID-19.
At the launch, Minister Phaahla was pleased to announce that the country had reached the milestone of 50% of the population receiving at least one dose of the vaccine. Emphasising that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and that vaccination is the only way to prevent further outbreaks and reduce the incidence of serious hospitalisation and death from the virus, he reported that over 36 million doses of vaccine have been administered, and more than 22 million people − including children − have been vaccinated. More than 70% of people older than 60 have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, meaning that the most vulnerable groups are receiving preventative treatment.
The campaign is designed with the aim of closing the gap to vaccine coverage, which represents approximately 13 million people in South Africa alone. "Our biggest challenge is to convince the youth between the ages of 18 and 34 years who are not coming in numbers. The majority of them are in universities and colleges, and only 6.6 million … have been vaccinated" said Minister Phaahla. "This approach builds on the extraordinary commitment that US President Joe Biden has made to donate more than 1.2 million vaccine doses by the end of 2022, and this intensifies our efforts to get 'shots in arms'," he explained.
The Global Vax campaign augments the bilateral efforts between South Africa and the US government to strengthen the country's health system; these comprise a wide range of programmes, including HST's HIV and TB Care and Treatment Programme funded through the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), implemented in KwaZulu-Natal and conducted in partnership with the Provincial Department of Health. Minister Phaahla referred to this partnership in his speech, noting that the Global Vax campaign "would add to our work to enhance partnership between the two countries in strengthening health pandemic responses and the health system."
Global Vax is implemented through a mechanism called 'Accelerating Development Against Pandemic Threats,' and is being managed by the non-governmental organisation Right to Care in support of South Africa's National and Provincial Departments of Health.
Low COVID-19 vaccine demand, linked to poor dissemination of information on where people can be vaccinated was a focus addressed during the launch event. The web-based 'Find My Jab' app (www.findmyjab.co.za) was demonstrated to show that anyone with a smart phone can access the system to find their nearest permanent and pop-up vaccination site.
It is hoped that this innovative technology and accompanying community-based demand-creation campaign will appeal to those in the 35−49-year age group, among whom vaccination rates are lowest nationally. Minister Phaahla noted that vaccine hesitancy is particularly marked within this age group, largely influenced by the negativity and vaccine misinformation messages spread mainly through social media platforms. "Through these collaborative efforts," the Minister explained, "we aim to contribute to closing the gap, through demand creation, information and education.
As a leading organisation and knowledge broker specialising in integrated care and health systems strengthening, HST is rising to the challenge laid down by the Health Minister to use effective communication and community engagement to 'get more jabs in arms.'
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