Covid-19 vaccine: Limpopo rollout’s shining example
When Limpopo health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba arrives to inspect vaccination sites, she rolls up her sleeves and starts administering jabs.
“I am there to educate the people about Covid-19 and the vaccine,” she told the Sunday Times in an interview this week. “I am also spending time with my staff.”
The vaccination rollout orchestrated by Ramathuba and her team has caught the attention of the chair of the parliamentary health committee, Sibongiseni Dhlomo.
“There is a good story to be told in Limpopo,” he told the committee on Wednesday, saying other rural provinces could learn from Ramathuba’s approach.
Dr Nicholas Crisp, the health department deputy director-general in charge of the national vaccine rollout, said Limpopo’s achievement in vaccinating 74% of over-60s left the national average of 53% in the shade and he called for the strategy to be widely adopted.
Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi said: “Limpopo is performing very well … You would think that their logistics and the vastness of the province would be a challenge, but their MEC involved community leaders and influential people and their co-ordinated walk-ins approach works.”
Ramathuba said the key had been “understanding our people and planning according to how Limpopo is”.
When vaccines for teachers became available on Wednesday last week, for example, Limpopo continued vaccinating over-60s. “We fear that if you disturb the plans, you lose them and the momentum,” she said.
“We vaccinate the teachers on Fridays and Saturdays, and in the first weekend we vaccinated more than 30,000. We should be mopping up the rest [in one day].”
Important lessons about the electronic vaccination data system (EVDS) were learnt during the Sisonke vaccinations of health workers. “We realised that if we are struggling with registration of the educated, what was going to happen with the above-60s?”
So Ramathuba implemented a registration campaign called “Help your grandma or grandpa to register”.
“We went to villages to register people. We took out our cellphones — the premier used his — and we talked the community step-by-step through the registration.
“On that day alone we registered 10,000 people but we still felt that it was not enough when we have more than 400,000 people.
“The game-changer was when we got 9,000 of our community health-care workers to go out with cellphones to register the elderly in their villages.
“The moment a health-care worker goes to register an elderly person, they educate them as well. We found that they respond positively to the personal contact,” said Ramathuba.
“We also needed to counter statements by chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on vaccines being the mark of the beast. We got religious people who are equally educated and are men of the cloth and then got members of the executive of the South African Council of Churches and vaccinated them first.”
Another game-changer was the vaccination of leaders of the Zion Christian Church, and roping in traditional leaders such as the Bapedi queen mother, Manyaku Thulare.
“I called the queen mother and offered her the vaccine and she came on board. She called all the Bapedi people to come and get vaccinated.”
Ramathuba scoffed at talk that she could be the new health minister. “No, that’s not true … I think when people see you doing well then they say that this one should be the minister. Mina (I) am just doing my job.”
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