A Village Chief at the forefront of COVID-19 vaccination campaign
UNICEF supports COVID-19 response in Malawi
It’s a sunny Friday morning in Chafuka Village, one of the hardest-to-reach areas of Thekerani in Thyolo district in Southern Malawi.
The dry season makes the road passable, but the situation changes every time the area receives rain. Even though the area is more than 30km from Thyolo Boma, the communities are not spared from fake news which is mostly spread through social media.
Group Village Headman (GVH) Chafuta, whose real name is Yohane Chaona, 72, is one leader who is working hard to stop misinformation about COVID-19 vaccination. He continually organizes meetings to clear any rumors that the villagers may have as well as ensure they receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It has not been easy to refute the rumours people in my area get from social media,” he says. “I call for meetings monthly just to get a clarification from our health workers,” he says.
Chaona set an example by getting all his family members vaccinated to encourage other people in his community to get the jabs. The chief believes the vaccine is the best way to protect himself and his family from COVID-19.
Doubling as a religious leader, Chaona is supporting the Ministry of Health by preaching to his congregation about the dangers of COVID-19 and how they can prevent its spread as well as protect themselves from the disease that can even kill.
“It is very important for religious and traditional leaders to join hands with the government to address all these false stories that we continue to hear about vaccines. Vaccination is not new in Malawi, I remember when I was young, our parents used to have us vaccinated,” says Chaona.
Some of us are even alive today because of the immunity we built when we got vaccinated against the many outbreaks that were there before.
Chaona lost one of his eyes due to measles which he suffered as a child. So, when he learnt that the Government of Malawi would be implementing a week-long nationwide integrated vaccine campaign to deliver measles-rubella (MR) vaccines and typhoid conjugate vaccine (TCV), he encouraged members of his community to get vaccinated during the campaign. The campaign - supported by UNICEF, WHO and the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization (GAVI) - also offered the bivalent oral polio (bOPV) vaccine and vitamin A supplement to eligible children.
Christina Mwalanga, the health worker from Didi Health Centre commended the good job that GVH Chafuta is doing to lessen the challenges that health workers face in their job.
She spoke of the support the chief has been providing to her team to successfully vaccinate many people in the area.
“He often calls for a meeting where he gives an opportunity for us to brief the community on any developments that the Ministry of Health is planning which include the introduction of new vaccines,” says Mwalanga.
UNICEF Malawi, with funds from GAVI, is assisting the Ministry of Health (MOH) in the COVID-19 response to ensure access to vaccines for the people of Malawi.
Since the first COVID-19 case was recorded in Malawi in March 2020, the country has registered more than 88,000 cases and over 2,680 deaths. While Malawi introduced the COVID-19 vaccine in March 2021, there has been a slow uptake of the vaccine, especially in remote and rural areas due to poor access, vaccine hesitancy, and misconceptions about the vaccine.