Providing the tools needed to inoculate against a deadly virus
UNICEF worked closely with the Government of Rwanda to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccinations continue unabated, despite significant shortages in syringe supplies globally.
Damascene Niyibizi is in the process of closing his shop in the bustling city suburb of Gahanga, Kicukiro District in Kigali. He pauses as he comes across a sticker, he had made about 2 years ago, urging his clients to observe the COVID-19 prevention measures when in his shop, and always.
He sighs, and smiles to himself, remembering what those times were like. The mandatory face masks, curfews, restrictions in movement and gatherings strictly prohibited, now seem like a thing of the past, but the psychological scars from those tough times linger.
He reaches into his pocket to pull out his COVID-19 vaccination card, issued by the Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC), if only to reassure himself once more that he is safe – not only from the deadly virus – but the ancillary effects of not being vaccinated.
He takes a last glance at it and puts the vaccination card back in his pocket and quietly trudges along his usual path home, a day well spent, looking forward to an even better day tomorrow.
I sat down with Damascene in his shop to speak to him to get a sense of the impact the COVID-19 vaccines are having on Rwandans.
“When the call for vaccinations was issued, I didn’t hesitate because I had seen first-hand how devastating COVID-19 can be – whether it’s loss of lives of loved ones, loss of income due to lock-downs and other effects of the pandemic. I’m fully vaccinated and this gives me peace of mind and the wherewithal to take care of my family. That is what’s most important to me,” he says.
For millions of Rwandans like Damascene who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, life is slowly but surely returning to normal – people are going for concerts again and can revel in the nightlife without worrying about curfews and wearing a protective mask when out in public is no longer mandatory.
To date, 69% of the total Rwandan population has been vaccinated, equivalent to almost 9 million people. As a result, the country has once again opened for business, and the economy is recovering.
The government’s aim is to fully vaccinate 70% of the population by the end of 2022, and all indications are that this target will be met, ahead of schedule.
A little-known fact is that this all came about due to the necessary infrastructure to vaccinate such a large number of people – in a short period of time – being in place. And a key cog to the vaccination drive is the availability of syringes – and safety boxes for their safe disposal after use – without which the vaccination drive would have faltered.
UNICEF assisted the Government of Rwanda to develop a sustainable long-term plan and supply forecast to ensure the country has enough syringes and other devices to support the COVID-19 vaccination campaign and routine immunization for children.
“5.7 million auto-disable syringes, along with their safety boxes, were procured and delivered, helping to ensure the continued delivery of COVID-19 vaccines as well as routine immunization services, without any interruptions,” says Denis Mupenzi, Supply and Logistics Specialist, UNICEF Rwanda.
"We appreciate the support of UNICEF in procuring syringes and safety boxes that were critically needed at the beginning of this year, to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out, as well as routine immunization, was not interrupted. This has contributed immensely to saving lives and helping us to stay on track to achieve the target of fully vaccinating 70% of the Rwandan population by the end of this year 2022," said Hassan Sibomana, acting Division Manager of the Maternal, Child, and Community Health (MCCH) Division of the Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC).
UNICEF prioritized the procurement of the auto-disable (AD) type of syringes, to ensure safety of the people on whom the syringes were being used.
AD syringes are recommended for immunization programmes because they are designed to prevent re-use by locking automatically after a single use. They are the best way of ensuring that people receive their shots safely, without risk of contracting an infection due to contaminated needles.
The AD syringes that were procured and supplied in Rwanda are like those routinely procured and delivered by UNICEF for the vaccination of children worldwide.
The COVID-19 response in Rwanda has taken a positive turn of late. The rates of new infections have plummeted, and there have been no recorded deaths due to the virus of late. Cautious optimism is the order of the day as Damascene and many others like him take on a post-COVID world, looking to build back better and stronger.
The success of COVID-19 vaccination programmes depends on several inter-related factors, one of the key ones being a constant and reliable supply of syringes.