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Workers at a Kenyan syringe company set the record straight

Workers from a syringe-making company in Kilifi, Kenya have been changing minds around the COVID-19 vaccine.

  • 20 January 2022
  • 4 min read
  • by Abjata Khalif
Revital workers inspecting packaged materials ready to be exported to Tanzania to fight the COVID-19 pandemic
Revital workers inspecting packaged materials ready to be exported to Tanzania to fight the COVID-19 pandemic

 

Kilifi County is an idyllic Kenyan coastal town known for its dotted cultural villages and strong adherence to Mijikenda cultural values and beliefs.

The community is administered through a traditional system known as Kaya, with special shrines dedicated to the Kaya elders. Communities receive traditional healing, which they mix with conventional medicine to address various medical issues under the direction of the local elders.

“They told us about how the vaccines work and how our county Kilifi is supplying the world with critical syringes used in administering COVID-19 vaccines. The revelation made us proud.”

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the region was a monumental task. Misinformation regarding the vaccine gripped the coastal villages in Kilifi, with people instead turning to traditional medicine.

Vasco Da Gama cultural village in Kilifi county.
Vasco Da Gama cultural village in Kilifi county.

It did not help that Kenyan coastal towns border Tanzania, where the previous administration of the late President John Magufuli refused to deploy COVID-19 containment measures and vaccines. However, the new Tanzania administration has introduced containment plans and is rolling out COVID-19 vaccines.

It took an initiative from workers employed at Revital, a Kilifi-based Kenyan company that manufactures syringes used for COVID-19 vaccination, to change the minds of the community through engagement and information exchange. Revital has a workforce of 500 people, the majority of whom are women hailing from the local community.

A woman visits a COVID-19 education session in Kilifi county, Kenya.
A woman visits a COVID-19 education session in Kilifi county, Kenya.

As the world braced for a potential shortage of vaccine syringes, the company has received multiple orders from international organisations and governments. As a result, the company and its workers garnered local, national and international recognition and accolades.

The attention and recognition the company received in the community also drew the attention of many locals, including the traditional Kaya cultural leaders. This increased the rapport between local workers and the community and they started sharing information on how its products, like syringes, are used in administering COVID-19 vaccines.

Revital workers shared with the community how their company was receiving huge syringe orders from various governments, like Tanzania, which gave them a different perspective on the information and misinformation they were receiving.

Revital workers inspecting packaged materials ready to be exported to Tanzania to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Revital workers inspecting packaged materials ready to be exported to Tanzania to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I could not believe my ears when one of the workers told me the Tanzanian government has ordered a huge syringe consignment. We started to understand that COVID-19 vaccine is real and working. The message made me mobilise my family members and we took the vaccine at an approved vaccination centre in Kikambala centre in Kilifi,” says one of the elders, Mr Chesoli.

The new Tanzanian authority has contracted the company to supply 11 million COVID-19 vaccine syringes for the country’s vaccination efforts. The Kilifi-based company has also been contracted by UNICEF India to supply 50 million 0.2ml vaccine syringes and, in addition, the company received a blanket contract from UNICEF for production of the 0.5ml syringes.

Another elder, Julius Charo, confirmed that the Revital local syringes workers, hailing from various villages including Bofa, Mnarani and Kikambala, visited their respective villages and engaged the communities through what is known as Baraza, a local gathering.

“They visited us because they know the depth of misinformation regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and how vaccine hesitancy and resistance has cost the community many lives and threatened many more. They told us about how the vaccines work and how our county Kilifi is supplying the world with critical syringes used in administering COVID-19 vaccines. The revelation made us proud,” says Charo.

Revital workers at a plant producing COVID-19 essential products.
Revital workers at a plant producing COVID-19 essential products.

Outreach by local Revital company workers offered the community evidence-based engagement as in the past, the community refused to believe medical facts and education from medical practitioners working in Kilifi sub-counties’ facilities.

“The fear caused by the misinformation resulted in the community ignoring COVID-19 vaccine facts from local medical practitioners. The Revital company workers gave us statistics on the syringes they produced, the orders they are getting globally and the global syringe shortages as well as evidence on how Tanzania is providing vaccines to its citizens. All that information made us change our mind,” says Mrs Selina Sabari, a resident from Bofa village in Kilifi, Kenya.