A journey to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to Bwama Island on Lake Bunyonyi

Bwama Health Centre III can only be accessed by boats

By Catherine Ntabadde
Bwama receives COVID-19 vaccines
UNICEF/2021/Ntabadde
28 April 2021

On 28 April 2021, at 9 a.m., teams from the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and journalists from different media outlets converged at the Kabale District Health Office to receive a debrief from the Assistant District Health Officer – Environmental Health Oliver Namanya about Bwama Island, one of the hard to reach areas in Kabale District western Uganda. The debrief was conducted in an open space to allow for social distancing and all the participating individuals were wearing masks.

The team was heading out to Bwama Health Centre III in Ndora West, Kitumba Sub County to document the kick start of the COVID-19 vaccination at the facility where 300 doses were delivered. Vaccination at this hard to reach facility on Lake Bunyonyi had not started due to limitation of transport for the facility staff and community members. The health centre can only be accessed using boats. The Government of Uganda launched and rolled out COVID-19 vaccination on 10 March 2021, starting off the activity with regional referral hospitals, general hospitals and health centre IVs. Health centre IIIs were recently included on the list to start on vaccination.

Namanya explained that, “one of the challenges we have experienced during this vaccination exercise is the movement to hard to reach areas like Bwama where you are heading to. The boats need to be fueled to transport health facility staff and to also collect members of the community from the lake shores to the health centre and back to the shores.”

He noted that the district relies on primary health care grants from the government which are inadequate to support several health services in the district. Namanya appealed to the Ministry of Health and its partners to increase the facilitation of health workers, provide fuel for district health vehicles and more fuel for Bwama Health Centre to use in the boats noting that the facility serves many more people from the neighboring districts of Kigezi.

vaccine carrier
UNICEF/2021/Ntabadde
Heading to Bwama
UNICEF/2021/Ntabadde

After the debrief, the team headed out to the shores of Lake Bunyonyi to embark on their journey to Bwama Island. UNICEF fueled two engine boats to support the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and transport the teams to the health centre. 

The Kabale District Health Sub District In-Charge Edward Arineitwe carried a vaccine carrier containing the COVID-19 vaccines from the shores throughout the 30 minute boat ride up to Bwama Health Centre III.

Upon arrival at the health centre, community members who had come for the vaccination were addressed by the Ministry of Health Senior Public Relations Officer Emmanuel Ainebyoona and Bwama Health Centre III In-Charge Ronald Ngabirano about the purpose of the visit and to also announce that vaccination against COVID-19 at the health centre had kicked off.

Communities that turned up for vaccination
UNICEF/2021/Ntabadde
communities listening to the in-charge during public education session
UNICEF/2021/Ntabadde

Community members were given an opportunity to ask questions. Jacinta Banshekwire asked whether someone who is suffering from other ailments can be vaccinated.

Jacqueline Tumubweine wanted to know measures that the authorities are undertaking to ensure that elderly people who can no longer move due to old age will be supported to come to the health centre to be vaccinated. She also wanted to know if vaccination at Bwama would continue and not be a one-off.

Arineitwe Benon noted that he had received communication that anyone to be vaccinated had to come with a national identity card yet there are people who don’t have the cards and wondered what alternative form of identification will be accepted so that more people can participate in the activity. All the questions were responded to and a detailed public education session was conducted thereafter with those specifically interested in vaccination by the health centre in charge.

public education session
UNICEF/2021/Ntabadde
Health workers addressing community members
UNICEF/2021/Ntabadde

Aaron Twinomujuni, a Science, and Mathematics teacher at Bulimba Primary School in Bwama could not hide his excitement upon receiving news that Bwama Health Centre III will be conducting COVID-19 vaccination.

“I am very happy that the vaccines (COVID-19) have been brought closer to us. I have even sent two of my boats to go and collect more teachers and other members of the community who are willing to be vaccinated. I was planning to go to a hospital that is about 10 kilometres from here. I am happy that I will be free of Coronavirus,”

Twino Mujuni explains.
COVID-19 vaccination launched at Bwama HC III
UNICEF/2021/Musinguzi
Twinomujuni being vaccinated
UNICEF/2021/Ntabadde

Twinomujuni owns two boats of which he donated one to Bwama Health Centre III to facilitate the delivery of health services on the island and support the transportation of community members to come and seek for health services.

AstraZaneca vaccine
UNICEF/2021/Musinguzi
COVID-19 vaccination card
UNICEF/2021/Ntabadde