No arm left behind
The efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccine coverage are grounded in a strong community-led approach, health workers, faith-based organizations support, and making the health system more resilient against future public health emergencies.
In 2020, Rosa Quintero Bork (25), a community health volunteer, received the most painful and unexpected news: her brother Danilo (43) had died of COVID-19. Rosa decided to turn her pain into motivation and action.
Rosa, a mother of two infants, filled herself with determination. “I was willing to do anything to protect my family,” she recalls. Her determination allowed her to become a key community asset for the Covid-19 door-to-door vaccination campaign, and the risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) initiative to promote the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments, designed and implemented by the Ministry of Health, with UNICEF´s support.
Community volunteers such as Rosa, are key in reaching populations—especially the hardest to reach—with COVID-19 tools. She is from the Miskito ethnic minority, lives in Bilwi, North Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Americas, where UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children appeal helped support the agency’s work to ensure access to vaccines, tests, treatments, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers and community volunteers like Rosa.
By working with ACT-A partners (Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator), the national government and communities, UNICEF is tackling inequalities amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, reaching about 80% of national immunization coverage as for June 2022.
Nurse Bertha González cycles through the streets of the outlying neighborhoods of Matagalpa, in northern Nicaragua, where she visits neighbors as part of the door-to-door vaccination campaign against COVID-19. Training from the Ministry of Health (MINSA), and the experience she quickly gained on the ground with COVID-19 patients, helped her gain security and continue her humanitarian work amidst the pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, we used to arrive at the homes of families in our community without further measures. The coronavirus forced us to adapt to these series of personal protection measures, and even though it could be difficult at times, I never let my guard down thinking about my son and the rest of my family,” says Bertha, whom in the context of COVID-19, applies different types of measures to reduce the risk of contagion among her patients, mainly children, and health care colleagues who serve at the community health center where she works. UNICEF provided front-line workers with PPE and supplies to work safely.
Rosario Suárez, a health community volunteer in Matagalpa, explains that she and her fellow brigade members have visited 273 families, achieving that 100% of the population completed their first dose.
Dr. Cristian Toledo, general director of surveillance for the health department at the Ministry of Health, underlines that another of the main strengths of the joint Ministry of Health and UNICEF coordinated work, is a holistic intervention that contemplates the strengthening of health personnel capacity and PPE provision, cold chain equipment, volunteer brigade’s capacity building, awareness raising and vaccine confidence interventions to generate vaccine demand.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Martha Reyes, considers that ‘‘all the support we have received from UNICEF, during the Covid-19 pandemic, is important, since the cold chain is guaranteed, and that has to do with the equipment received, the means of transport to take the vaccines to the 153 municipalities and then to health centers and from house to house, under conditions that guarantee the effectiveness and efficiency of the vaccines and biosafety measures of frontline workers. This support is essential for our country to meet its vaccination goals”, she said.