Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have responded with innovative solutions to protect our community members within the context of the communities we serve. In our area, where life is lived communally, there is little opportunity to social distance. With the fourth wave in South Africa in full swing, mixed with migrant workers returning home and people traveling for the holiday season, it is vital to provide our communities with the best option for protection. The most realistic way for community members to protect themselves against severe illness is to vaccinate.
After running eight successful COVID-19 vaccine outreach days and strengthening relationships with the Department of Health, the Bulungula Health Point became an accredited COVID-19 vaccination site (read more here). Every Wednesday, we offer COVID-19 vaccinations, and since September we have vaccinated over 400 people.
We have also run school campaigns, offering vaccines (with the prior consent of parents or caretakers) for children 12 and older at five schools (No-Ofisi, Xhora Mouth, Nguberhamba, Melibuwa, and the Bulungula College). The teachers and principals at the government schools were so pleased with our efforts, that we were told in the end of the year reports some schools encouraged parents and caregivers to take their eligible children to be vaccinated at our Health Point.
In December, boys from our communities go for their initiation ceremony. This year for pre-initiation preparation, the boys were all required by traditional leadership and hospital to be vaccinated before their ritual, and were referred to us. We vaccinated over 40 boys, some coming from a village across the Xhora Mouth river, involving them to walk over an hour and cross the river by boat.
Poverty is not a lack of resources. It is the lack of choices and options through which to improve your life. Still in our communities, the option for adequate medical care is limited. The provision of local vaccines gives community members the option for safety. Beyond fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, having agency and the ability to choose is a significant achievement for our communities.