Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bulungula Incubator has worked urgently to protect our most vulnerable community members from the virus. We set up a safe home venue for at-risk community members at the Bulungula Lodge, provided food parcels and vouchers for increased food security, distributed face masks and sanitisation products, incentivised creating isolated huts in a homestead for elderly and vulnerable, and we continue to conduct daily COVID-19 screenings and PCR tests in our villages, and provide transport to nearby hospitals for community members with severe symptoms. And now, we are supporting our 60+ community members to get their first vaccine!
Historically in our communities, we have had limited exposure to adult vaccination campaigns, so in order to promote vaccine readiness with reliable and relevant information in isiXhosa, we launched our Vaccine Literacy Campaign. Since February, our Vaccine Literacy posters have been used by our Nomakhayas (community health workers) as educational tools during daily home visits, used as scripts and broadcast at the Bulungula Community Radio, and shared and hung up in community hubs, including at spazas, shebeens, schools, and community WhatsApp groups.
Providing support to be able to register for the vaccine has been a widespread problem in rural South African communities. Likewise, in our communities most adults over 60 do not have access to internet, computers or smartphone devices to register, and many are unable to read or write, making it near impossible to register on their own. In order to best support community members, once the South African Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) self registration portal was opened for people 60+, our Nomakhayas went door-to-door to recruit and register eligible people for the vaccine.
Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines are now available at our local hospitals (two hours away by taxi) for people 60+, however, most community members do not have their own transport, requiring them to pay for taxi rides (which many cannot afford), or to travel long and dangerous distances by foot— across the Xhora River, forests, and mountainous roads. According to a study conducted by the University of Johannesburg, transport is currently one of the biggest barriers of getting vaccinated. Outreach by the government hasn’t been authorised yet in the Eastern Cape, so we have had to raise funds in order to transport our community members to be vaccinated for their first dose before the third COVID-19 wave hits us.
Once all our systems were in place, we coordinated a massive effort, and over four days, we successfully and safely transported 186 elders (more than 90%) from our four villages to Madweleni hospital to be vaccinated! We are very encouraged by the turnout of our 60+ community members, and believe they will be leaders in advocating for others to be vaccinated in our community.
However, providing transport for a second dose, and for the next phases of rollout (50-59 year olds), is financially unfeasible for our organisation. The challenge now that we face is not the readiness of our community members, but rather delivery by the government. We are advocating for outreach to be authorised or for the government to fund transportation systems urgently to enable us to vaccinate our 50-59 year old community members too before South Africa’s devastating third wave arrives at Bulungula.
We are proud of our achievements in protecting our most vulnerable community members, and will continue to prioritise support until the end of the pandemic!
Help vaccinate our community by giving a contribution to our COVID-19 response efforts.