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Pujehun Bike Riders Champion Covid-19 Vaccination

HomeNewsPujehun Bike Riders Champion Covid-19 Vaccination

Pujehun Bike Riders Champion Covid-19 Vaccination

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In the main commercial motorbike riders’ park in Sahn, a long queue is growing.

Many of the people on the queue are commercial motor bike riders. They come mostly from within Malen Chiefdom, many of them for their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Malen is one of 14 chiefdoms in Pujehun District, which is located in the southern part of Sierra Leone. And Sahn is the largest town in the chiefdom.

Pujehun is one of the districts in the country with a high rate of vaccine skeptics. This has been largely due to the many myths around the safety of the vaccines. While some believe that the vaccines can kill, rather than prevent someone from getting seriously sick or killed by the Coronavirus disease, others think that it causes other diseases and infertility.

Commercial motor bike rider, Tanu Fullah, represents this group of people who have been swayed by the campaign of vaccine sceptics. Even though he is concerned about the risk he faces with Covid-19, the fear of contracting unknown diseases or even dying, apparently outweighs that of the Covid-19 virus.

He says he will observe his colleagues who are taking the jab to see if it will turn out adverse on them, then he will decide on whether to take it himself.

“I know the risk associated with our job, which is that we take a lot of different kind of people which exposes us to the virus. But the safety issues associated with the vaccine concerns me more. But with time, depending on how my colleagues do after taking the vaccine, I may change my mind,” he says.

In most part of Sierra Leone, Okada, as the commercial motor bikes are called, is the most common form of transportation. In many places it is in fact the only means of transportation. Such people rely on it to take even the sick to hospitals. This way the riders are at increased risk of contract any infectious disease.

Because of this, organizers of the ongoing ‘Accelerated Covid-19 Vaccination Campaign’ deems it prudent to target the bikers, among many others. 

This campaign is being implemented by the NGO FOCUS 1000, with support from the Africa-CDC and other local and international partners.

Abdulai Brima is one of many bike riders who have taken the vaccine. Brima took his first dose earlier in August.

“I took the vaccine since August because I know that it is important as it protects us against Covid-19. We (Bike riders) take different kind of people on our bikes and that exposes us to the virus. So I know that the vaccine is important and that is why I took it,” he says.

The first phase of this vaccination campaign took place from September 27th to October 26. This second phase started on November 1st and it is expected to come to an end at the end of the month.

During the first phase, Pujehun had a target to vaccinate about 5,040 people in 30 days. But the district recorded a massive turnout of people who were vaccinated. It got nearly triple of that – 14, 579 people – according to official data released by FOCUS 1000.

Abass Nabieu Jah, District Coordinator of the NGO, tells KMN that the Kombra Network, a group of grassroots mobilizers, have been instrumental in their success.

“The network members serve as mobilisers in this campaign. They go out into the communities and mobilise the people and then the vaccinators come in to administer the jabs,” he says.

The Ministry of Health and Sanitation, through the District Health Management Team, is the technical lead in the vaccination exercise, as its support to FOCUS 1000.

Mohamed Jalloh, District Operations Officer in charge of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), outlines the role the DHMT has been playing in Pujehun and how the involvement of the grassroots mobilisers have contributed.

“The involvement of FOCUS 1000 in the national vaccination effort is very important. It has led to increase in the coverage of vaccination. Most of the people who were unwilling to take the jabs have willingly come forward to take it, thanks to the involvement of FOCUS 1000. Most of them are happy, because the campaign has made access to the vaccine easy. We have covered a lot of communities in the district through this campaign,” he says.

“At the DHMT, we are here to supervise it. We handle the vaccines to make sure that they are good to us. We also make sure that the vaccinators do their work properly,” he adds.

The success in the first phase of this campaign could hardly have been attained without the help of the Kombra Network.

This network, which comprise Market women, religious leaders, civil society activists, traditional healers and journalists, has over the years played a very vital role in the fight against public health emergencies such as Ebola and Cholera. During the 2014 – 2016 West African Ebola Virus Disease outbreak, the network, with the support of its main partner FOCUS 1000, helped the authorities mobilize people at the community level to contain the spread of the virus.

In the current pandemic, the role of the Network has been more of community mobilization. This has to a large extent contributed to the massive turn out of people across the country for the jab.

Reverend Michael Columba, a member of the Christian Action group (CHRISTAG), one of the components of the religious arm of the network, explains the role the network has played in Pujehun.

“The involvement of religious leaders has especially been a big part of this. We the religious leaders have been sensitizing our people. They know that we – Pastors and Imams – cannot wish evil for our people. So when we talk to them they take it serious. We even go to the extent of showing them proof of vaccination and tell them that we cannot wish them evil. The Scripture tells us that: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself. I cannot do anything that will destroy myself. So if I have taken the vaccine, and you see that everything is ok with me and I ask you to take it, that has created a huge impact in this district.”

Pujehun has six vaccination teams, which comprise health workers who administer the jabs, record keepers and social mobilisers. Each team is assigned to a chiefdom. Harry Mathew Sam heads the team in Malen. He says the role of the mobilizers made their work easier and contributed to the high uptake.

“When we initially started last month, it really wasn’t easy, even though we had cooperation from the people. Like in every aspect of life, there were some obstacles. Some were rejecting it, but others were happy to take it. We did what we had to do to make sure that most people in the Malen chiefdom get the jabs,” Sam narrates.

He adds: “Wherever we go, we are preceded by the mobilizer, who prepares the mind of the people. Even though we still face problems, we try to help convince them. And they have been taking it.”

With Pujehun’s over 300, 000 population, according to the 2015 Population and Housing Census, there is hope that before the end of the second phase of the vaccination nearly half of its total adult population will have been fully vaccinated. And this, if achieved, will be a major boost to Sierra Leone’s goal of vaccinating at least 20 percent of its eligible population by the end of 2021.

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