With the opening of the first VillageReach Vaccinodrome in November 2021, a treasure hunt began where each new encounter could improve vaccination coverage in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This treasure hunt was undertaken by the inspiring community health workers (CHWs) in Kinshasa.
Every day at dawn, CHWs get up to go to work for long hours. They survey the nooks and crannies of a few kilometers from the vaccinodrome to raise awareness, silence rumors, and direct the community to the COVID-19 vaccination site. Although the sun is in full force and the heat is oppressive, these CHWs are motivated because they know that vaccination remains the safest way to get protected against COVID-19.
They meet at the vaccinodrome every morning at 7am: they replenish supplies such as referral tokens, pre-registration forms, megaphones, and sign the attendance list. Then, wishing each other luck, they weave their way between vehicles to approach individuals. On the road, they encounter passersby, passengers, taxi drivers, motorcyclists during rush hour. They pre-register receptive people, and give them referral tokens. More often than not, they receive pushback in the form of insults, refusals, and even physical threats. Yet, they remain motivated and calm.
“I pay no attention to the derogatory comments that I very often receive, because my mission is not to respond, but rather to transform these comments into a positive act by convincing people to get vaccinated,” confides Maman Cécile, CHW from Gombe.
With a smile that inspires confidence on her face, Maman Cécile continues: “I once spent more than 30 minutes convincing two young people who were getting off the bus to get vaccinated, they believed the rumor that vaccination had consequences on sexual performance in young people. In the end, I walked them both to the site to reassure myself that they had indeed received their vaccine.”
Some curious people are attracted by the brightly colored vests worn by the CHWs and spend time listening to them. They ask important questions and CHWs answer convincingly. Moreover, some of them are so moved that they stress the need to lead by example.
“When we raise awareness, I try to convince people with my vaccination card in hand, because I want to serve as a model for them and show them that the vaccine is in no way a danger, but rather a gain to protect us and protect the people we love,” says Maman Bebe, a Gombe CHW.
At the end of the day, the surroundings of the vaccinodrome empties and the temperature starts to cool. At that moment, the CHWs return to the base to write their daily reports under the guidance of the District Communication Supervisor. While at it, they are vigilant and remain on the lookout for visitors that may come in at the last minute. Even when CHWs are in transit at the end of their work days, they are always observant because one more vaccinated person makes the difference.
“After a day’s work, we are exhausted, but we are happy with our ability to show up and accomplish great work,” says Charles, a Gombe CHW.
Indeed, these CHWs are our everyday heroes, who are essential to DRC reaching high vaccination rates!