Despite facing numerous challenges, such as climate conditions, rough terrains, long distances and occasional delays in vaccine dispatch, the implementation of the VAN Program has showcased remarkable resilience, ingenuity and creativity.
The VAN Program’s success can be attributed to its crucial partnerships with the Ministry of Health Departments in the respective Counties. Other contributing factors include sensitization efforts, the development of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials, radio messaging, capacity building of healthcare workers, community influence through leaders and strategic implementation of outreaches serving as mobile hospitals, often positioned under trees. These efforts effectively break down barriers and bring vaccines closer to the people.
The inclusion of Community Health Promoters and ambassadors, such as opinion leaders, chiefs and local administration has played a pivotal role in employing demand strategies through social behavior change communication and mobilization. Their effectiveness in reaching out to community members has been evident in highlighting the safety and accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines in various health facilities and community outreaches.
Bishop Francis Matua, a religious leader in Wote, Makueni County, shared the challenges of the pandemic and emphasized the duty of religious leaders to assure people of vaccine safety. He actively encourages his congregation to take the COVID-19 vaccine, addressing myths and misconceptions.
“It was a very painful time. We buried our loved ones, many feeling they had not said proper goodbyes as the number of people allowed at funeral sites was limited. It feels like people were just erased from our lives. As religious leaders, we have a duty to assure people that vaccines are safe.” –Bishop Matua
In Turkana County, Lolem Lotunya, a senior Community Health Volunteer, tackled vaccine hesitancy by leading by example. Through the VAN Program’s community outreach meetings, awareness has increased and the community is becoming more receptive to vaccination.
“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.” -Lolem Lotunya
In Lokwatubwa, a remote village in Loima Sub County in Turkana, faces challenges such as poor infrastructure and extreme weather. Nanok Simon, the nurse in charge of Lokwatubwa Health Centre, credited their vaccination success to collaborative efforts involving PanAfricare Kenya, the County Government, religious leaders, administrative heads and health workers adding that community mobilization and the availability of vaccines and vaccination services have been key strategies.
To enhance demand and understanding, the Program developed a Vaccination flip book, providing essential information about COVID-19 vaccines. This resource has empowered stakeholders to address concerns, dispel myths and ensure accurate information reaches the community, fostering trust and confidence among the public.
The VAN Project continues to be implemented in Turkana and Makueni Counties. Through partnerships, community involvement and innovative tools, the program continues to overcome challenges and make significant strides in achieving Covid-19 vaccination goals.