A Race to Use Vaccines Boosts a Community’s Immunization Goals in Mali

Published on February 21, 2024

By Moussa Koumare, Knowledge Management & Communications Advisor, MOMENTUM Routine Immunization Transformation and Equity Mali

Photos by André Vital, MOMENTUM Routine Immunization Transformation and Equity Mali

Gao, Mali: It is 8:00 am and already 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31 degrees Celsius). Under a neem tree, one of 24 vaccinator teams has gathered. It’s the first day of the COVID-19 vaccination mini-campaign, and time to make the final adjustments: checking vaccination records, quantities of vaccines, and consumables including syringes and vaccination cards. The 24 teams are divided among seven health areas in the city of Gao, a small, arid city along the Niger River at the southern edge of the Sahara. Each team has a plan for the areas to cover during the campaign.

A vaccination team gathers in the shade of a neem tree. Photo Credit: André Vital, MOMENTUM Routine Immunization Transformation and Equity Mali

In Mali, MOMENTUM Routine Immunization and Integrated Health Resilience provided technical and operational support to the Gao Regional Health Directorate [Direction Régionale de la Santé (DRS)] to vaccinate 70 percent of the eligible population against COVID-19.

By June 2023, local authorities requested swift action to use up 1,980 vaccine doses which were close to expiration. Unlike full COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, which take months to plan and ten or more days to implement, the project rapidly supported the DRS and regional health authorities to organize a four-day vaccination mini-campaign in a matter of weeks. MOMENTUM’s support included harmonizing efforts among partners to ensure cohesion and avoid duplication of efforts, tailoring community engagement strategies, supporting planning, providing job aids and supervision, and managing health facilities’ supplies.

Not only did the project need to navigate the pending vaccine expiration, but people were reluctant to get vaccinated in the northern areas of Mali, particularly in Gao, due to misinformation on social media that suggested the vaccine would cause sterility or even death. There were other reasons too. “Among the first persons vaccinated against COVID, some experienced side effects like high fever and pains in muscles and bones. Others questioned how quickly the vaccine for an unknown disease was found, when there was no vaccine against malaria [in Mali],” said Saliha Touré, a young professional in Gao.

To combat fear and misinformation, the project engaged influential community members, such as neighborhood leaders, civil society organizations, and religious leaders to spread accurate information about the vaccine. Even town criers – people with loud voices who spread messages from the village chief in the streets – joined the effort. After MOMENTUM partnered with DRS and civil society organizations to provide community members with accurate messaging, health center elected leaders spoke on local radio stations and 50 social mobilizers went door-to-door to raise awareness and urge people to get vaccinated. “The strategy of authorities in charge of vaccination was to involve community leaders in mobilization and awareness raising. Thanks to this, the campaign was a complete success in Gao,” explained Hassimi Moussa, president of the Community Health Association.

A community leader is vaccinated. Photo Credit: André Vital, MOMENTUM Routine Immunization Transformation and Equity Mali

After two days of awareness raising, health teams succeeded in administering 1,961 vaccines before their expiration, as well as an additional 338 vaccines, (2,299 doses total) in public squares, health centers, and neighborhoods across the city of Gao and surrounding areas during the mini campaign.

Yattara Oumou Coulibaly, who is in charge of vaccination at the Djidarra Community Health Center in the Gao district, explained how the project supported the DRS objective of vaccinating 70 percent of the population across the nation. “Despite several campaigns already carried out, we were still far from reaching our targets. This mini campaign enabled the DRS to vaccinate many people. By supporting this campaign, MOMENTUM will help us achieve our objectives before the end of 2023,” she explained.

A Gao market seller is vaccinated. Photo Credit: André Vital, MOMENTUM Routine Immunization Transformation and Equity Mali

MOMENTUM continued supporting COVID-19 vaccination after the mini campaign. As of November 2023, 76 percent of the population of Gao Health District was vaccinated against COVID-19, surpassing the national COVID-19 vaccination coverage goals. In addition to surpassing this health goal, the health system in Gao was strengthened. The health system is now equipped with partner and task coordination mechanisms, additional partnership support, a reinforced supply chain, and communication strategies to improve future vaccination campaigns.

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