Action Against Hunger has been at the frontline providing lifesaving prevention and treatment for decades. COVID-19 is no different. Since the pandemic first started, we have been delivering PPE and other resources to those in need, educating people on how to protect themselves from the virus, and teaming up with Ministries of Health to combat the pandemic. When health facilities were overwhelmed, we ramped up our support even further to get quarantine facilities and treatment hospitals up and running.
The next step is stopping the spread of the virus in its tracks through shots in arms. Today, less than 10% of people in Africa are fully vaccinated. We are fighting to change that. As a trusted health provider, we are working to get vaccines to those in need in Somalia and South Sudan.
Somalia is a challenging place to deliver health services. Following four years of consecutive dry seasons, 80% of the nation faces drought. As wells have dried up, high temperatures have pushed people to move toward city centers - straining what resources remain. The pressure on urban healthcare services, combined with the ongoing presence of armed militia groups throughout the country, makes a coordinated effort to combat the pandemic a challenge.
Despite these obstacles, we are meeting the task of rolling out COVID-19 vaccines head on. First, our team works to combat misinformation by engaging communities in dialogue around the benefits of getting vaccinated. With our network of Community Health Workers, we have been able to reach and educate over 390,000 people about the benefits. “They leave the hospital every day and go door to door in the community, informing people about the risks of COVID-19 and the benefits of the vaccination,” explains nurse Hussein Mohamed, one of the healthcare workers on site. We are partnering with communities around the globe to educate people about COVID-19's risks and the benefits of vaccination. In Somalia and South Sudan, we have coupled this approach with an ad campaign on Facebook to provide facts about the COVID-19. Through the social media platform, we were able to reach 1 million people in Somalia alone.
Our second challenge in Somalia is getting jabs into arms. We set out with the goal of vaccinating 24,000 people across our 42 vaccination sites. Recognizing that not everyone can get to a site, we also deployed mobile medical teams to bridge the “last mile” to people’s homes. Since January 2021, we have surpassed our goal and now have vaccinated over 38,000 people.
In the Paguir region of Fangak County, South Sudan, severe flooding has lasted for for years. Some remote villages appear permanently waterlogged, making access to healthcare a challenge. This is where we have focused our efforts. After setting up vaccination sites in three villages, we began our education campaign. The fact that over 95 percent of staff are South Sudanese themselves helps our teams gain trust. Initially, the vaccines were met with skepticism, shared Dr. Paulino Buda Geri, a member of Action Against Hunger’s team, but with continued effort, the sentiment began to change. “My colleagues have been distributing educational materials, shouting messages from loudspeakers on local canoes, and placing ads on the radio and Facebook. It's working—so successfully that even I have been surprised.”
Community leaders began to get the vaccine. “I want to be the example for the community,” said Kueth Gach upon arrival to receive his vaccine. Soon, many others followed. By the time we got our shipment of vaccines, long lines had formed. Some sold a portion of what little they owned to buy passage on a boat to one of the vaccination sites. Sadly, we were forced to turn 60% of people away; we did not have enough vaccines. Even our Community Health Workers were unable to get vaccinated. Currently, our teams are eagerly waiting and hoping for for further vaccine deliveries. Demand remains high.
Action Against Hunger has been able to vaccinate tens of thousands of people in Somalia and South Sudan but so many are still waiting to receive a shot. As Rahma Salad, a woman in Somalia, explained after getting her second shot: "I hope that this virus will one day be eradicated from our country and the whole world, enabling us to live without fear of COVID-19.”