Rural areas play second fiddle to urban centres in Covid-19 vaccination campaign

By Musa Makina

WITH her baby strapped on her back, Nomsa Moyo (not her real name) walks into a grocery shop at Lupane Business Centre, her face mask hanging loosely on her chin, she sanitises her hands by the door as part of the Covid-19 preventive measures.

To her, sanitising and wearing masks it’s one of those routine things she involuntarily does, as she doesn’t attach any importance to it. 

By the same door, Nomsa never bothers to read a Covid-19 campaign notice stating guidelines on how one should protect oneself from the deadly pandemic.

Moreso, calls for her to be vaccinated against the disease, are futile as she has heard conflicting reports on the effects of the vaccine, forcing her and her family to stay away.

“We are surviving by the grace of God,” says Nomsa.

“This corona thing, if it’s really genuine it will finish us here because we know very little, no one is giving us the correct information about the disease. Now we hear we have to be vaccinated but it’s not clear. At some point we were told it’s only those who work, now we hear everyone is now supposed to. Others also say the medicine is from China and it will kill us all,” she said.

Nomsa is just a typical example of many rural dwellers who have suffered grossly from government’s failure to prioritise them in the fight against the pandemic.

An investigation done by this publication indicated that more attention has largely been given to urban areas, where testing, treatment, quarantine and information dissemination is very effective as compared to the rural counterparts.

A further survey revealed that, while government has on several occasions gone public about reaching out to the rural populace, facts on the ground indicate that mostly concentration has been on growth points and district business centres without actually reaching out to those in deep and far-flung areas where shopping centres and health facilities are several kilometres away.

For instance, in Lupane, the vaccines have so far been distributed to five health centres: St Luke’s, Lupane, Jotsholo, Fatima and Gwayi.

According to government spokesperson Nick Mangwana, “The remaining eight centres are still to receive their vaccines owing to logistic challenges which are being addressed.”

This, however, indicated that government has only set up 13 vaccination centres in the greater Lupane Constituencies, raising questions on government sincerity in reaching out to communities whose health centres are far away.

Rural Communities Empowerment Trust coordinator Vumani Ndlovu criticised the manner in which government has dealt with the pandemic in rural areas.

“Firstly, we received fewer doses and the other challenge is that the vaccination is concentrated at rural centres, rural villages are yet to have access to the programme. So it means that those who are far away will have to travel long distances to come and access. In other words, you find that some people are about 60 kilometres from the centre, so this means that these villagers will have to incur some transport costs in order to get to the centre,” Ndlovu said.

“The other challenge we have noted is information dissemination is also done at the growth point, so villagers are suffering from misinformation and disinformation. If you compare the number of rural and urban people who have been vaccinated, you will realise that the number is disproportionate. Lupane has 28 wards, so you may realise that only three wards have full access to vaccines and information,” he said.

The Lupane Youth For Development Trust coordinator Sibusiso Moyo also weighed in.

“The vaccination programme prioritisation in rural areas is really a sad story. The information is just spread mainly at Lupane centre and not deep in rural areas. So many deep in there they know nothing much about vaccines. If you notice in recent weeks there has been an increase of cases in Lupane, and lack of access to information around vaccination and the pandemic is one of the major problems. There is also a need for vaccination centres to be brought near to the people instead of having someone travelling 30 kilometres to get the vaccine,” Moyo said.

However, noticing the gap, National Aids Council (NAC) last week embarked on an eight-day Covid-19 awareness campaign in all of Matabeleland North administrative districts.

“What we have realised is that the number of Covid-19 cases have been spiralling in all our districts in the province. As a result, we have seen a number of our activities being affected,” said NAC Matabeleland North provincial coordinator Dingani Ncube.

 “We then decided that we needed a drive that can concientise the community on the pandemic so that they can prepare for themselves and we hope that this can prevent the upward trend in the number of cases that we are witnessing. We then decided to support all covid-19 risk communication task forces in all districts to really go out there and do the work.”

On reaching out to communities in far-flung areas, Ncube said: “Each district set down and they came up with strategic areas where we can reach out, we then mobilised partners with the NAC providing resources such as fuel to support the partners. 

The campaign team includes the ministry of health officials, NAC district coordinators, traditional leaders, security forces and district information officers.

Part of the team’s task is to also encourage rural people in the province to embrace all the pandemic’s preventive measures including the ongoing vaccination programme.

Chief Mabhikwa admitted that the situation was bad in rural Lupane as new cases and fatalities continue to be recorded on a daily basis.

“It’s been a tough challenge, initially people here were sceptical about vaccination owing to a number of theories that they had been hearing but I am glad that the government through the ministry of health has embarked on an outreach programme to really get to those people who are in the remote areas and not only educate them about the pandemic but the need to also get vaccinated,” Chief Mabhikwa said.

He, however, said he was also glad that people in Lupane were now beginning to appreciate the importance of being vaccinated as they were now seeking the jab.

Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs minister Richard Moyo admitted that it has been difficult reaching out to remote areas in the province.

“We received 50 000 doses as a province and I engaged the provincial medical director on how best we could reach out everybody and we decided to come up with outreach programmes as well as mobile clinics such that those in places where clinics are very far can also receive the jab. We want the process to be effective as is the situation in urban areas,” Moyo said.

Over the past couple of months, the number of new cases and deaths due to the pandemic have been increasing daily nationwide which led the government to extend the enhanced level four national lockdown

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