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

The last two years have seen extreme efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill.

In 2020, close to two million lives were lost as a result of the pandemic and in 2021, the number increased with 3.5 million people dying.

Vaccines are the ray of hope in overcoming the pandemic.

Since their rollout, deaths have significantly declined, and more recently, the hospitalization numbers have dropped among the fully vaccinated.

Rwanda is among the few African countries that have vaccinated most of their populations.

As of early January 2022, more than 40 percent of the population had been fully vaccinated, meeting the gloabal target set by the WHO goal. More than 5.5 million Rwandans have received two doses and 7.7 million got the first one and are due the second which is being rolled out together with those legible for their booster 3rd shot. Rwanda has a population of 12 million.

The New Times talked to medical experts, and public officials to understand what led to a successful vaccination campaign. Here are 5 highlights lights.

1. Countrywide distribution of health centers

Most countries, especially those in the developing world, did not receive the vaccines at the same time. Getting the vaccines early depended on available infrastructure including health centers owing to the challenges of storage since the vaccines required cold temperatures.

According to health experts, the already existing network of health centers across the country enabled the decentralization of healthcare services including the distribution of vaccines.

Currently, each of the 416 sectors in the country has a health center. This made it easy to reach Rwandans 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 travel long distances.

This efficiency encouraged partners with access to vaccines to donate them to Rwanda. The robust planning and coordination facilitated the using up of all the doses as they were delivered.

In the early stages of the pandemic, the government and stakeholders laid out concrete plans to distribute vaccines to all health centers. The plans included logistical details of how they would be transported, distributed and administered to the population.

2. Deployment of youth volunteers

When Rwanda confirmed the first Covid-19 case in the country, it was just a matter of time that the existing health workers would need help to deal with the pandemic.

A decision was made to enlist the support of volunteers. Rwanda's use of Youth Volunteers was not new. The initiative was already in place with young people helping in various areas where there were shortages even before the pandemic hit.

When dealing with the pandemic and supporting the vaccination exercise, the volunteers, who had a footprint in every district of the country came in handy.

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 supported the distribution of food to vulnerable families during the lockdowns among other tasks.

So, when the vaccines finally arrived, these same youth played key supporting roles including registration and record-keeping. Each of the 416 sectors across the country had at least 20 volunteers working.

3. Innovative communication strategy

How do you reach as many people as possible as quickly as possible and with convincing messages?

Overcoming this challenge required a multi-thronged creative approach. From using radio - the most popular medium - to knocking on people's doors, every strategy was deployed.

Even police patrol cars were equipped with loud PA systems with speakers that would deliver messages as they moved around. Drones with speakers also flew over homes to deliver messages and raise awareness.

During the early days of the vaccination campaign, public servants, including senior ones from different government institutions were enlisted to move door to door, sensitizing people to go for their jabs.

And, with most people working from home, different institutions donated their work vehicles to support the transporting vaccines from one area to another.

4. Collaboration of the different stakeholders

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

During the Covid-19 vaccination drive, different partners teamed up with the health authorities, either private or public, to ensure an efficient vaccination drive.

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.

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'.

Most important was community participation. The vaccines would have gone to waste if the community did not embrace them,

5. Investment in primary health care and Community Health Workers

Community Health Workers have been central in decentralizing all health programs including home-based care.

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

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.

And, those who could not leave their homes including senior citizens, those living with disabilities, or with sickness, health care workers vaccinated them from their homes.

Community Health Workers make up the larger part of primary care, they are present at all administrative levels of the country. This specifically enabled the successful administration of Covid-19 vaccines in rural areas and villages.

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