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Covid-19 vaccine rollout in Liberia and Sierra Leone helps reach vulnerable people

Sierra Leone vaccination shot.jpg
Yayeabu Kamara gets her second COVID-19 vaccine from mobile vaccinator in Kambia County, Sierra Leone. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide
News30 November 2021Lucy Bloxham

The governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia are rolling out their vaccination programmes with Concern’s support to reach vulnerable people in some of the most remote regions over the coming year.

The project is part of the EU humanitarian initiative in support of the rollout of Covid-19 vaccination campaigns in Africa, aiming to ensure that vaccines reach the most vulnerable parts of the population, in countries with critical humanitarian needs and fragile health systems.

Years of civil war has debilitated health systems and infrastructure in both Sierra Leone and Liberia, pushing millions of people into poverty. From 2014 to 2016, a severe Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone rocked the country, infecting and killing thousands of people and weakening health systems even further. Malaria is also hugely prevalent in Liberia and Sierra Leone - where it is the country’s biggest killer. Both are low-resource countries with health budgets that simply don’t meet the needs of the population, meaning vaccination roll-outs have been slow.

A mass vaccination programme on a national scale has challenged wealthy countries and is an even greater challenge for countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia with less developed health systems and populations living in remote, hard to reach areas. There is a real urgency in rolling out vaccinations which Concern is supporting, alongside the national Ministries of Health, ECHO and the IRC.

Fiona Gannon - Regional Director, Concern Worldwide

Covid-19 vaccine statistics in Liberia and Sierra Leone

In Liberia, 8.8% of the population has been fully vaccinated. In Sierra Leone, it is estimated that just 3.7% of the population are fully vaccinated. For a country where malaria accounts for 40% of outpatient health visits and the last Ebola outbreak killed almost 4,000 people, the severity of the Covid-19 threat is not fully accepted.

Dave Smyth, country director with Concern in Liberia, said: “There are a lot of common misconceptions that need to be worked on.  We need to use our network of community health workers, to get the message across and mobilise people to get vaccinated.”

Vaccine supply is also an issue for both countries. Often supplies that do arrive are within weeks of their expiration date, giving little time to get vaccines into arms.

Concern’s help

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Liberian Ministry of Health vaccinator, Amos M Gaye shows the contents of his vaccination cool-box. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide

Collaborating with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), we will support the implementation of the national vaccine deployment plans in both countries, by providing Covid-19 vaccination information and targeting hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations, including women, older people, people living with disabilities, Ebola survivors, transient workers and people living in extreme poverty.

Sarah Cundy, Concern’s national health co-ordinator in Sierra Leone said: “We are supporting mobile vaccination teams in Sierra Leone with logistical support; staff carrying out data collection, providing fuel for cars and trucks so they can reach remote communities, subsistence allowances for staff to stay out in the field for longer, and rain gear – it rains up to six months of the year here.

We have even budgeted for boats in some districts, especially those that have large river networks that breach their banks during the rainy season. This is challenging terrain and we want to be able to reach everyone.

Sarah Cundy

We will also provide logistical support such as transport, communications, and data management and ensure reliable, accurate messaging around vaccines is getting to the populations of both countries, where scepticism around the vaccine is high.

In addition to facilitating the vaccination of most-at-risk vulnerable populations, the Concern team will also be targeting health workers and health volunteers, aiming to reach just under 36,000, many of whom work in hard to reach areas that make it difficult to access services.

How many people will it help?

The programme in Sierra Leone is aiming to reach every member of the population, 7.8 million people, through its communications and awareness plan, by using animation, travelling cinema, radio and social media ads. In Liberia, the aim is to reach 40% of the population (2.5 million people) through radio, community level mobilisation, and by supporting the Ministry of Health’s communications plan.

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