Rwanda: Five Things That Aided Rwanda's Covid-19 Vaccination Campaign

The past two years have been marked with extreme efforts in global health to combat the Covid-19 pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill.

Close to two million lives were lost to the pandemic in 2020 whereas 3.5 million people succumbed to the respiratory infection in 2021.

Vaccination is the only aspect that has presented a ray of hope to overcome the pandemic, because since its roll out, fatality cases have significantly declined. The same applies to number of people who are being hospitalized.

Rwanda is among the few African countries with a large number of vaccinated population.

As of early January, over 5.5 million had been fully inoculated while over 7.7 have received the first dose. More than 213,000 people have also received the Covid-19 booster shot. This makes the country among the most highly vaccinated countries in the world, with over 40 percent of the population currently inoculated.

The New Times talked to medical experts, and government officials to find out what made Rwanda stand out in this regard, and came up with five major factors:

1. Efficient distribution system of health centers across the country

Most countries, especially those in the developing world, did not receive the vaccines at the same time. Getting the vaccines earlier depended on how health centers and infrastructures were built up in a country.

So, Rwanda's preparedness with institutions that are already in place, according to the medics, and decentralized healthcare services at made it selected among the first beneficiaries.

Currently, each of the 416 sectors in the country has a health centre. This made it easy to reach everyone in different corners of the country.

Health workers carry vaccines that were distributed in remote area through helicopters in MAY 2021. Courtesy

The Ministry of Health quickly deployed the vaccines to these decentralized medical facilities and vaccine access was easier to residents without having to make long distances.

This efficiency drew many international donors and partner countries which did not hesitate to donate vaccines to Rwanda, owing to the robust planning and coordination in using up all the doses as they were delivered.

The government had laid out a concrete plan of distribution in all health centres as of who, where, when and how vaccine administration will be conducted in all health centers.

2. Using youth volunteers from all of the country to sensitize and coordinate activities including vaccination

When Rwanda confirmed the first Covid-19 case in Rwanda, health workers were not enough to withstand the pressure of patients that would have overwhelmed the health system.

So, Rwanda embarked on the use of Youth Volunteers, an initiative that already was engaging the youth of all walks of life in different activities of national importance.

The volunteers, who had a footprint in every district of the country, took on the job to facilitate the health sector and security organs in Covid-19 measures enforcement.

A youth volunteer helps commuters to wash their hands at the entrance of Kigali Downtown Bus Park on May 4, 2020. / Photo: Craish Bahizi.

They were present in all public places to make sure Covid-19 protocols are adhered to and other humanitarian activities including distribution of food to vulnerable families during the lockdowns.

So, when the vaccines finally came, these same youths were in handy to coordinate the vaccination programme at the different designated sites across the country.

They have acted as a key figure during the vaccination drive and every sector has at least 20 youth volunteers in the role today.

3. Efficient, innovative communication strategy

Many innovations have also upended the drive health promotion efforts towards a call to attend vaccination programmes, and this was done through proper coordination of all institutions in the public and private sector, as well as the civil society.

For instance, police provided cars that were used to raise awareness around vaccination. While in the early days of the vaccination campaign, public servants from different government institutions were enlisted to move door to door, sensitizing people to go and take their jabs.

Drones and other mobile public address systems also kept circulating villages doing the same call until today, as well as transporting vaccines from one area to another.

4. Collaboration of the different stakeholders

According to health professionals, a pandemic cannot be combated by one sole organisation, institution or specific sector.

During the Covid-19 vaccination drive, different partners teamed up with the health authorities, either private or public, to ensure the vaccination drive is held in more than one arm.

For instance, Rwanda Defence Force provided choppers to transport the vaccines to remote parts of the country, while officers from the military and police were availed to assist in the inoculation of citizens.

Hundreds of Kigali residents receive Covid-19 jabs during a mass vaccination campaign at Amahoro National Stadium on August 23, 2021. Photo: Dan Nsengiyumva.

Several public agencies sent their staff to facilitate vaccination data entry, while religious organisations did their best to fight the false information that these vaccines are the biblical symbols of 'Anti-Christ'.

The media was used to raise awareness, without forgetting the contribution of security agencies and local leaders at large.

However, the community participation can also not be left out, as vaccines would have gone in vain if the community did not embrace the program.

5. Investment in primary health care and Community Health Workers

Community Health Workers who have also been central in decentralizing all health programs including the home based care have also been essential in this particular process.

They have been essential in social mobilization of vaccination programs, as they conducted several door-to-door awareness raising campaigns calling people to vaccinate themselves.

Community health workers during a door-to-door sensitisation exercise on how to control the spread of Covid-19 in Kamonyi in April 2021. Photo: File.

This is because they are present in all administrative levels of the country.

Community Health Workers make up the larger part of primary care, hence simplifying the administration of Covid vaccines in their local villages, as Rwanda has a health center in each sector.

A health worker administers a Covid-19 jab to a young lady at Amahoro National Stadium in Kigali on August 23, 2021. With over 40 per cent of the population currently inoculated, Rwanda is among countries with the most high vaccination rate in the world. Photo: Dan Nsengiyumva.

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