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How can you help boost COVID vaccination rates in Africa?

Les Irwig, Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health, urges readers to consider donating to support COVID vaccination in African countries.

Born in South Africa, he has drawn on longstanding connections to identify a non-profit organisation with “demonstrated capability in expanding access to vaccines, with a focus on communities in far flung areas where infrastructure and connectivity are poor”.


Les Irwig writes:

Those of us living in wealthier countries are now getting our third or perhaps even fourth COVID-19 vaccination. Meanwhile, fewer than one-third of people in Africa have received their first dose. Even in African countries with higher vaccination rates, communities in remote areas are being left behind and experiencing the devastating effects of COVID-19.

Many of us decry the massive inequity. Governments internationally have done little to address it. So what can we as individuals do?

This is a question that has exercised my mind – all the more so as South Africa was my home for the first half of my life. Our family left for Australia in 1985, never imagining that Apartheid would end, and we did not visit until soon after Mandela’s release in 1990. Then followed a decade of annual visits and a sabbatical to try and support public health research, including help with the establishment of the South African Cochrane Centre.

So what about the current international COVID Vaccine Apartheid?

While the issue of vaccine availability is slowly being addressed by governments, either independently or through donations from other countries, the critical issue is getting people vaccinated in remote, disadvantaged communities.

With that in mind, I approached public health colleagues in Africa to find a suitable charity. From those suggested, I selected Right to Care (RTC), a leading healthcare non-profit organisation that was started in response to the public health emergency of HIV and AIDS in Africa.

It now provides broader healthcare, especially for infectious diseases, as well as responding to global healthcare emergencies. RTC’s extensive experience working in public health across Africa and further afield makes it well equipped to tackle vaccine disparities.

We had a Zoom meeting for over an hour with those running the initial RTC remote vaccination program, and were humbled and inspired by their enthusiasm, commitment and attention to detail. RTC has a demonstrated capability in expanding access to vaccines, with a focus on communities in far flung areas where infrastructure and connectivity are poor.

Views of Empilisweni District Hospital near the Lesotho border. Photo supplied by RTC

Their initial program is in the eastern Cape, near where Mandela was born, and the region where I collaborated with rural health workers 40 years ago to document child mortality rates and try to find a way of reducing them.

But this familiarity with the region is not what attracted me to the RTC program. Rather, it was the potential for their remote COVID vaccination program to be replicated, with local adjustments, as a model for vaccine delivery elsewhere in Africa including countries, such as Malawi, where vaccination rates are very low.

Many of us in wealthier countries have received our vaccines free of charge. Should we not then use some of our resources to try and help vaccines reach families in disadvantaged remote communities in Africa? How to do that is shown below.

Your donations to RTC will help to make vaccination freely available for those whose need is greatest. To vaccinate just one person in an outlying area, costs between ZAR700.00 and ZAR1000.00 – less than US$70 or AU$100.00.

Please dig deep into your pockets and help improve vaccination rates in disadvantaged communities, help towards overcoming inequity and help to ensure better health for us all.

Click on this link to donate to Right to Care Remote COVID Vaccination Program.

Note that ZAR1000 is less than US$70 or AU$100.

Donations within South Africa are tax-deductible.

Donations from Australia are tax-deductible if you use this alternative website. An email address is given there to alert the Angel Network to direct the donation to the RTC and to receive your tax receipt. You can also send donation gift cards from this website.

Please also alert others who might help.

• Les Irwig was born in South Africa of Jewish parents who escaped Nazism. He qualified in Medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand and then trained in epidemiology in the UK. He returned to South Africa between 1975 and 1985 to research and implement ways of improving health in communities disadvantaged by Apartheid in both urban and rural settings. Despondent about the Apartheid regime, he immigrated to Australia in 1985 to an academic position at the University of Sydney. There he developed a strong epidemiology training program and an extensive research program, primarily concerned with the assessment of medical tests for screening, diagnosis and monitoring. For his significant service to tertiary education and to medicine as an epidemiologist, he has been honoured as a Member of the Order of Australia. For the decade after Mandela’s release in 1990, Les visited South Africa annually to support public health research, including a sabbatical to help establish the South African Cochrane Centre.


See Croakey’s archive of stories on health inequalities.

 

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