Strengthening COVID-19 Immunizations through Local Implementation: A Year of Impact

by Amref Health Africa

In the ongoing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, access to vaccines has proven critical, especially for disadvantaged communities across Africa. Amref Health Africa, in collaboration with ten African NGOs, has been at the forefront of a transformative initiative to bolster COVID-19 immunizations through the Vaccination Action Network (VAN) for the past year. Supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, this partnership has yielded significant progress in increasing vaccine coverage and fostering health resilience.

Partnership Powering Progress

Amref Health Africa, the largest Africa-based International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO), has worked alongside ten African NGOs in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, and Tanzania. Together, they have crafted and executed local strategies to enhance COVID-19 vaccine coverage within high-risk populations. These initiatives have been the fruit of extensive intra-country and cross-country discussions led by the Vaccination Action Network (VAN), a peer-to-peer learning platform for health leaders in sub-Saharan Africa. VAN is a valuable space for sharing insights and refining immunization campaigns, not just for COVID-19 but for future challenges.

Our Network of Impact

The nine VAN subgrantees have embarked on various projects, including:

  1. PS Kenya and PanAfricare: Focusing on priority groups, such as youth, the elderly, and community health workers, in Makueni, Nakuru, and Turkana Counties, Kenya.
  2. Christian Health Association of Malawi: Engaging religious leaders as advocates for COVID-19 immunizations in Phalombe and Chiradzulu Districts, Malawi.
  3. Centre for Development Communication: Designing and distributing COVID-19 prevention guides, including the benefits of vaccination, for residents of Mulanje District, Malawi.
  4. United Purpose: Engaging with village mobilizers, Community Health Volunteers (CHVs), and community leaders to address demand-side barriers for improved vaccine uptake in Dedza District, Malawi.
  5. Community Concern of Orphans & Development Association: Focused on door-to-door immunization outreach in Njombe District and Makamboko Town, Tanzania.
  6. Zanzibar Maisha Bora Foundation: Launched mass media campaigns with embedded vaccination teams to complement service delivery for COVID-19 vaccinations in Kaskazin and Magharibi Districts, Tanzania.
  7. Makerere University School of Public Health: Strengthening immunization data systems in Wakiso District, Uganda.
  8. Infectious Disease Institute: Training community vaccination advocates in Wakiso District, Uganda.
  9. Voices Outreach Zambia (VOZ): Demand creation for priority groups (Youth, elderly, CHVs) for improved vaccine uptake, including strengthening the overall immunization programme.
  10. Amref Health Africa in Zambia: Community sensitization through door-to-door campaign, design and distribution of information education and communication materials, and capacity building of healthcare workers on immunization.

Notable Achievements

    • 349,266 COVID-19 Doses Administered: This collective effort spanned multiple countries, including Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.
    • 3,585 Community Influencers (religious leaders, opinion shapers) Engaged: These advocates have played a crucial role in community sensitization and mobilization supporting COVID-19 vaccination.
    • 478,143 People Reached: Access to integrated Routine Immunization and primary health care services have been provided.
    • 5,637 health workers trained (District/sub-district health teams, training of trainers, facility level staff) on risk communication and community engagement approaches to effectively and efficiently address vaccine demand challenges
    • 5,125,648 People Sensitized: Health education and messaging around immunization and COVID-19 have been effectively disseminated through various channels, including radio, TV, community sessions, and door-to-door outreach.
    • 1,512 Community Health Volunteers deployed to conduct door-to-door mobilization activities, reaching a total of 144,861 people

    As these VAN partners implemented their immunization strategies, they recognized the value of applying lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen essential health services through meaningfully engaging communities to listen to real-time ground challenges to inform implementation design and adaptation.  This includes maintaining routine immunizations and providing chronic care for conditions like HIV/AIDS, further enhancing pandemic preparedness in the East and Southern African regions.

    This blog celebrates the commendable efforts of Amref Health Africa and the VAN partners in advancing COVID-19 immunizations and contributing to the overall health resilience of African communities, highlighting the power of collaboration and innovation in overcoming challenges. Below is a story from Lolem Lotunya, a community health volunteer in Turkana, Kenya, who shares his experience with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    Lolem Lotunya a Community Health Volunteer shares his experience with Covid19 pandemic


    Jackson Musembi, Regional Project Manager-Amref Health Security Unit, Amref Health Africa (HQ)

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