BY DAYO ADESULU
Ghana’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been hailed as exemplary for its planning, speed and high-level leadership, but dig a little deeper and there are yet more crucial lessons in working with far-flung communities and building up trust in the vaccines.
“We have a migratory population that travels routinely from north to south across the country so their animals can graze,” says Dr Francis Kasolo, WHO Representative in Ghana. “Just as we have done with routine immunization, vaccination stations along their travel routes have been set up so that these populations can also access COVID-19 vaccines.”
Many best practices from decades of delivering immunization for example measles vaccination, were worked into Ghana’s comprehensive preparations for mass COVID-19 vaccinations.
“Measles was a particularly devastating disease here, and citizens understand how measles vaccines reduced mortality. So we used this as a base for our advocacy efforts with the public to build confidence and drive uptake,” says Dr Kasolo.
Ghana also used drones to deliver vaccines to areas without roads and sent vaccinators out into communities to stay with them for periods of time while administering the vaccines.
“Rather than wait for citizens to come to us, we made the effort and went out to them,” explains Fred Osei Sarpong, WHO Immunization Officer in Ghana.
“Information on vaccination points was shared on every channel, including national television, radio, social media and chat apps like WhatsApp, as well as through networks of district and community leaders and organizations.”
The creation of a real-time, online data management system with key information on inoculation rates and the availability of vaccines has also helped build up confidence.
Ghana was the first country in the world to receive vaccines through COVAX in late February, and just 20 days later, the country had reached over 470 000 people in areas with the highest number of COVID-19 cases, including around 90% of all health workers.
“We identified 43 areas where high transmission of the virus was evident, and started with those districts, sending out mobile teams to administer vaccines,” notes Osei-Sarpong.
Rather than wait for citizens to come to us, we made the effort and went out to them
On 7 May, the country benefited from a further 350 000 doses redirected from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is testament to the country’s rapid, efficient and coordinated response to the public health crisis and ability to swiftly roll out vaccines.