The challenge of flying vaccines in conflict zones in Africa

A health care worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Abuja, Nigeria. Photo by: Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters

In March, Mercy Corps Warned that countries with the highest levels of violent conflict are likely to be the later to reach widespread COVID-19 vaccination

In a statement, the organization’s CEO Tjada D’Oyen McKenna, said that “by the time vaccination efforts reach communities in vulnerable contexts, unequal distribution may deepen or sow new divisions.

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“Vaccine denial could be high and adherence to public health guidelines could be short, further prolonging the spread of the virus and exacerbating the long wave of conflict and economic devastation,” he said.

As vaccine vaccinations begin in Africa, health experts in conflict -affected countries fear that people living in such conflict zones are at a double disadvantage due to the conflict and limited continent access. -go to vaccines.

Even if some countries have mechanisms in place to place vaccines in their conflict zones, health experts warn that the continent should ensure adequate dosing before these launches begin.

Vaccination is prohibited

More than half of the 20 countries that experienced the highest level of vaccination by 2020 are African countries and according to the Mercy Corps, these countries are likely to reach widespread vaccination by 2023 or later.

Ahmed Khalif, Somalia’s country director Action Against Hunger, Somalia says people living in Al-Shabaab-controlled regions are unlikely to get vaccines because they have to choose between taking chances on diseases to avoid the vaccine or risk being killed by militant groups in Al -Shabaab – violating the law vaccines.

“Al-Shabaab groups have issued a statement that they will not take the COVID-19 vaccine and that is their position even before COVID-19, with routine vaccinations such as measles, polio, [and] that hasn’t changed, ”he said.

“In our planning for security-compromised areas, we are fighting the military like we did with polio. [vaccination program]. ”

– Dr. Faisal Shuaib, executive director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency

In government-controlled areas, vaccination skepticism and resistance are fueled by misinformation which officials seek to provide solutions. But in parts of the country controlled by the militant group Al-Shabaab, there is no or no hope that COVID-19 vaccines will reach people there, if the group is considered to have banned vaccination exercises, according to him.

Action Against Hunger assisted the Somali health ministry in launching the COVID-19 vaccine, clear the position of the militant group, the organization limited their interventions and support of the COVID-19 vaccine in the parts of the country where they with full or partial penetration

“It is [rolling out vaccines] presents more security challenges than it can help them avoid disease. Lives are affected on the same level – whether you die of it [Al-Shabaab] or in pain, “Khalif said.

While Al-Shabaab has lost control in the port towns of Kismayo and Barawe, it controlled the southern town of Jilib, making it its de facto capital, in addition to prevent parts of central and southern Somalia. It also has a resurrected presence to the north, where it fought fighters allied with the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Use the military to deliver vaccines

Nigeria also has a militant crisis in the northern region that has delayed and nearly derailed the national polio control program but laid the foundation for the country’s COVID-19 vaccination plans for crisis zones.

Following Nigeria’s long-running fight against wild poliovirus, Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian professor of virology and chairman of Nigeria’s Ministerial Expert Advisory committee of COVID-19, told Devex that the crisis in the northern region is a important given to the country. the last country in Africa to eradicate the disease, due to the lack of access of vaccine recipients in conflicting areas and widespread distrust that exacerbates the crisis.

While the acquisition of contradictions has contributed to the delay in the end of polio, the country’s agency overseeing COVID -19 vaccination efforts – the National Primary Health Care Development Agency – told Devex of the systems it has put in place to overcome the challenges posed by polio conflict zones. vaccination efforts are still in place; ready to deploy to expand access to the COVID-19 vaccine among those living in crisis areas in Nigeria.

NPHCDA Executive Director Dr. Faisal Shuaib says important lessons have been learned and continued.

“We learned our lessons from the polio eradication program, and as we planned for security-compromised areas, we engaged the military like we did with polio,” he said. “In areas where, due to uncertainty, civilian health workers cannot go, we are actually dropping military officials oral polio vaccines in children’s mouths.”

Ensure multiple doses

Humanitarians are planning for COVID-19 vaccination in conflict zones

International and regional NGOs operating in conflict zones have begun preparations for the first batches of the COVID-19 vaccine expected this year. Access is a major concern but far from the only one, experts say.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa, said the body of health and the United Nations urged countries with ongoing conflicts, displaced persons, or humanitarian crises to make some balance of the vaccines they get for people in difficult areas.

John Nkengasong, director of African Centers for Disease Prevention and Prevention, said before the continent starts making plans to vaccinate the said areas, vaccine doses need to be ascertained.

“Most of the vaccinations happen in the main towns reasonably – that’s where the pandemic is, which is the enemy,” he said. Adding that vaccinating large segments of the population in metropolitan cities “will create early herd resistance.”

“That will give us time to do a mop-up operation in troubled areas, and just vaccinate them. You have to have vaccines before you start planning to vaccinate in troubled areas,” he said.

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