Africa is behind on the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out. With only three per cent of the population vaccinated, compared to around 65 per cent in Europe, and 54 per cent in America*, global inequalities have never been starker. But this doesn’t have to be the case. There are programmes already in place that can support vaccine distribution in the continent.
Vaccine supply in Africa isn’t the only issue; it’s the roll-out too. It’s having the capacity, logistics and contacts to reach millions of people over miles and miles, often where transport and health infrastructure can be lacking. But thanks to existing partner and volunteer networks, and decades of experience, Sightsavers’ neglected tropical disease (NTD) programmes already have strong structures in place to support the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine once it is in-country. And we have a strong track record in doing this, so far delivering more than 1.3 billion treatments for NTDs.
The journey of the treatment from manufacturer to community is complex. Those who need treatment often live in remote areas where flooding can damage the road and wash away bridges or there are security concerns that hinder the delivery of essential health services. This is where, together with governments, partners and communities, we find solutions to deliver treatments in even the most difficult circumstances. For example, in 2018, Sightsavers along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners supported the Yemen Ministry of Health to deliver trachoma treatment to around half a million people.
Last month in Cameroon, we had our first opportunity to harness an NTD programme to vaccinate volunteers and health workers who deliver treatments to communities. My team and I had been concerned about vaccine equity since the arrival of the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine back in April. Doses were limited and priority was given to health staff, the military and those aged 50 plus. However, our hope was restored when additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were donated by the US Embassy to the Cameroon Ministry of Health, to boost vaccine coverage in the country.
We took advantage of this, proposing to the Ministry of Health that they should use the Act to End NTDs West programme’s training of community volunteers to also promote the vaccine and offer it to those taking part in the training. This was greatly welcomed at both national and regional levels.
Hear from some of the community volunteers who got vaccinated in Cameroon:
Ndelle Ngabe Makoge is a NTDs programme officer for Sightsavers, based in Cameroon.