The Covid-19 pandemic left a trail of devastation, reshaping lives and redefining how communities interacted. In Turkana County, a predominantly nomadic community, the pandemic ushered in a dark period marked by travel restrictions, night curfews and limited gatherings. However, with the availability of Covid-19 vaccines the community is slowly recovering.
Lolem Lotunya, an experienced senior Community Health Volunteer in Napeikar, Loima Sub County, vividly recalls the onset of the pandemic, describing it as unlike anything he had ever witnessed: “It brought fear to the community; it was an entirely new challenge for us. People couldn’t work or go to town.”
As a dedicated health promoter within the community, Lotunya took immediate action by disseminating essential safety measures like handwashing and maintaining social distancing. Drawing from his past experiences in tackling diseases like cholera, he conducted home visits to educate people on protecting themselves from the virus.
However, when the Covid-19 vaccines became available, Lotunya encountered widespread hesitancy. He realized that myths and misconceptions were rife in the community, fueling fear. To combat this, Lotunya led by example: “I made sure to get vaccinated in front of everyone. Everywhere I went, I proudly displayed my vaccination certificate to reassure others that the vaccines were safe and effective.”
Lotunya is pleased to witness a gradual shift in community sentiment towards vaccination. He notes, “Today’s vaccination meeting in Nabuin was crucial. It allowed people to ask questions and receive answers. The significant number of people getting vaccinated is a testament to a community well-informed and willing to take the vaccine.”
James Lomodo, a village administrator responsible for Napeikar unit, also recalls the initial anxiety that gripped the community during the early days of the pandemic. As a government official, he felt a deep responsibility to ensure accurate health information reached the people: “We seized every opportunity to dispel myths and misconceptions, fostering confidence in verified health messages.”
James underscores the importance of vaccination, emphasizing that a healthy population is a productive one. He warns of the cost of inaction in terms of vaccination and urges everyone to get vaccinated.
The success in increasing vaccine uptake and raising awareness about Covid-19 in Turkana County is thanks to the concerted efforts of PanAfricare Kenya through the VAN Project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation via Amref Health Africa.
This project actively engages community stakeholders like Lolem Lotunya and James Lomodo. Through their tireless work, the VAN Project has succeeded in vaccinating more people and increasing awareness about the virus, its effects, and modes of transmission.
PanAfricare also collaborates closely with religious leaders, community figures and influencers to reach a wider audience within the communities. Their commitment to empowering communities and dispelling vaccine myths is crucial in the journey towards healing and recovery.