A day in the life of a vaccination volunteer in the Republic of Congo

Guy Mbika is one of hundreds of volunteers to have stepped up to support the country’s huge COVID-19 vaccination effort. He’s a busy man…

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Guy and a colleague ready to hit the field.
 

 

Guy Mbika lives in Makelekele, a district south of the Republic of Congo’s capital, Brazzaville. He is one of the hundreds of volunteers involved in the government’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign. 

“I have always been very committed to the health of my community and to that of children, in particular. As soon as I heard about a campaign, I enlisted to make myself useful,” says Mbika, as he fits on his helmet, ready to ride off on his electric scooter.

“Everyone is focused on earning to cover their daily needs. Without this mobile vaccination activity, most of them would not get the jab.”

“My days are both long and exciting. But, regardless, I want to see as many people as possible get vaccinated to protect them from this preventable disease,” he says.

Today his first stop is Bissita Integrated Health Centre in his local arrondissement of Makelekele, where he meets his colleagues and checks the vaccination register. By 09:00 he has dispatched tens of vaccinators armed with vaccination boxes to the different villages in the district.

Vaccinators armed with vaccine boxes ready to take doses to the people.
Vaccinators armed with vaccine boxes ready to take doses to the people.

He catches up with a couple of health workers in the facility before hopping onto his motorbike for Bacongo, a neighbouring district about eight kilometres away. Here he meets a group of town criers for their daily morning call. These town criers are employed around the country to raise awareness and tackle misinformation around COVID-19 vaccines. Generally, Guy dispatches these criers to areas where they live.

“You are more comfortable listening to a neighbour or someone you know tell you about the benefits of vaccination than a complete stranger. People trust me because I’m one of them. They know my face and my voice, so I can easily convince them,” says Mbika.

Another effective strategy that Mbika uses is to deploy teams of two, made up of a vaccinator and a social mobiliser, to each zone.

Mbika leverages his past experience from the Ebola epidemic, which puts him at an advantage as far as social mobilisation and communication coordination are concerned.

By noon, he heads back to his office – a tent outside Bissita Health Centre. His phone is blowing up with calls from healthcare workers, his team of vaccinators and journalists. Generally, he spends the rest of his day giving directions and responding to enquiries from teams in the field.

Today, he has received a frantic call from one of his teams to say they have been evicted from their station in Village Desi, Bacongo district, by a resident claiming they had camped on his private premises without his permission. The dilemma is whether to seek the help of local authorities or negotiate with the property owner directly. He powers up his scooter and rushes off to the site. After an hour of negotiating and explaining that it is for a good cause, the resident finally agrees to have the vaccinators pitch their tent on his property. Giscard Mokoko, the social mobiliser allocated to the station, takes advantage of the curious crowd that has gathered to pass on his message on vaccination.

Darel, a town crier hired by the Mayanga Integrated Health Centre, at work.
Darel, a town crier hired by the Mayanga Integrated Health Centre, at work.

“These are some of the real challenges we face but we have to skilfully solve them; one way of doing this is patience and tolerance,” explains Giscard. “It’s more challenging when we do door-to-door sensitisation. People have trouble letting us into their homes. They are afraid that we could infect them because we go from house to house, but we are well equipped in respecting the barrier measures, which also helps to encourage families to accept our messages and vaccination services,” adds Mokoko.

By 17:00, Mbika’s team has cumulatively administered 47 doses of the vaccine in two districts: not bad, given the obstacles and limited support.

“These people are doing a great job,” says Michelle Elenga, a local pastor who just received his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. “Everyone is focused on earning to cover their daily needs. Without this mobile vaccination activity, most of them would not get the jab.”

By adopting an integrated communication strategy to ensure that the people of Congo receive clear, evidence-based information on the virus, the various vaccines, and their potential side effects, Mbika and his team are making commendable strides towards eradicating vaccine resistance.

“The fears that gripped the masses during the earlier phases of the vaccination efforts have been significantly dispelled,” Mbika says.

The Congolese government is making efforts to accelerate its vaccination programme now that a consistent supply of vaccines is available through COVAX.  As of 23 March 2022, at least 680,000 doses had been administered in Congo-Brazzaville, which represents 13% of the population.