At a time when Covid-19 Vaccine is facing low demand among Malawians, some chiefs and Jehovah’s Witness Church leaders and members have proven that leadership has high potential of influencing positive health seeking behaviors thereby creating community demand for Covid-19 vaccines.
GVH Malendo of TA Kambalame in Salima stated that “We are now living in delicate times that leaders need to take a forefront in the promotion of health services. Pandemics will not stop but if our people are informed on time and in a fair manner, they will not struggle to understand health services available for their good health especially when we chiefs take lead in accepting vaccination services. In my area many people have accessed the Covid-19 vaccine because they saw me take some jabs already.”
Jehovah’s Witness Church members have also shared how much their church administration inspires the congregants to get vaccinated. “Our church decided to encourage its members because our doctrine values sharing bible studies as a group and in person. Although our churches shut down and we were congregating through WhatsApp and other virtual platforms, it was not enough, and our church leaders got vaccinated first. This provided an exemplary platform that every church member needed to follow to speed up resumption of congregation. Currently no member is allowed to get to church without evidence of vaccination and all preventive measures are still enforced and those with Covid-19 signs like sneezing and coughing are not allowed to get to church until they have recovered,” said Ruth Elias, Kachache Jehovah’s Witness Member from TA Pemba in Salima.
“Our church values that health life is a must to every worshipper hence church administration provided guidance to us to get vaccinated and follow all Covid-19 preventive measures as recommended by Ministry of Health,” Goliath Bisweck, Lifidzi Jehovas Witness Church Member in Phaka T/A Ndindi in Salima.
Bishop Sinoya Afaki of Abraham Church from TA Pemba in Salima stated that, “When I made a decision to get vaccinated with Astrazeneca vaccine, most church members waited for some weeks because they wanted to observe if the vaccine was fatal or harmless.” He added that after three weeks, some members of his church started going for vaccination, and after a month, half of his church had accessed the Covid-19 vaccine.
GVH Mtika Likwele from Chipoka TA Kalonga and SGVH Maganga from Maganga TA Maganga shared similar evidence that when people see their chief lead in accessing the Covid-19 vaccine, community members’ fear for the vaccine gets diminished and they voluntarily demand the health service. “On that day, 400 people got vaccinated when I openly got the Astrazeneca Vaccine before my people,” Chief Likwele said.
Providing evidence if Covid-19 pandemic exists, Lorent Mthobwa from Chenyama TA Kalonga, who supports Chipoka Health Center Management Committee in Salima said, “I nearly died, and everyone here saw me battle for life when Covid-19 struck me hard. It was difficult to breathe, and I thank God, relatives, and friends because they stood up for me although some discriminated against me even when I was discharged from the hospital until now when they can get close to me again.” He added that “Sharing of face masks at the health facility just to get the health service is childish as you can get infected and let’s follow all preventive measures.”
Lifeline Health Center Management Committee chairperson from T/A Kambalame in Salima, Magunda Kamtedza worried that the slowed acceptance of Covid-19 vaccine among community members is due to political confusion that was brought between April and June 2020 during presidential elections campaign where some politicians denied existence of Covid-19 pandemic although the first case was reported in April 2020. “People followed this directive that Covid-19 pandemic does not exist, hence low uptake of the SARS vaccine,” he said.
Disease Control Surveillance Assistants in Salima have shared that lake shore areas are harder to convince to accept Covid-19 vaccine than upper areas. The health facility catchment areas under Salima District Health Office have shown to have registered vaccination rates ranging from 4% to 11% of the total legible population of 70% since April 2021 to June 2022. “Most people are pulled back because of myths and misconceptions that have already been proven fake, “said Bright Sumaili from Maganga Health Center. “Some people have been confused with the change of Covid-19 dosages where previously we were issuing one jab of Johnson and Johnson but now, they get three jabs including a booster. This has also created a negative speculation which is holding people to get vaccinated,” said Albert Mapemba from Lifeline Health Center.
The Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM) implementing Global Fund Covid – 19 Response Mechanism project through Ministry of Health and ActionAid conducted Health Facility observatory meetings in Salima from 25th July to 29th July 2022 to assess the impact of Covid-19 on access to TB, HIV And Malaria services and how communities are linked with health facilities through Health Center Management Committees.