Not All Heroes Wear Capes
Vaccinators in Zambia paddle boats through rivers and walk miles
The West Bank catchment in Zambezi district of Northwestern Province in Zambia is a hard to reach and remote area with persisting complexities caused by the distance and disconnect from the urban settings and development. Children and families living in this part of the country, remain at risk of various life threatening and other virus-driven diseases. To reach and save these children, the health workers and vaccinators have to cross the waters, the swampy lands and face security threats, every time when they set out on a vaccination drive.
“Sometimes, just reaching the children can take about three days of walk, paddling the boat for more than 40 kilometers, and crossing swamps,” says Kapindula Titus, a 27-year-old health worker from Kawelele village of Zambezi West, Northwestern Province, Zambia. Kapindula has been working as a vaccinator since 2020. Every time there is a Polio campaign in Zambezi district, Kapindula sets out to reach and vaccinate every last child in West Bank catchment. In responding to the call of duty, the 27-year-old vaccinator crosses three rivers, the Zambezi, Kashizi, and Mushibi, paddling the boat for miles and walking for days, before he can reach the community.
Kapindula is a hero, who may not have a cape to fly, but ensures every child is vaccinated against the Polio virus.
“I am passionate about serving my community because these children are the leaders of tomorrow. Most parents here do not understand the importance of children’s health and the risks to their wellbeing. Therefore, as a health worker, I believe it is my duty to ensure that these children live long and do not suffer from vaccine preventable diseases,” adds Kapindula, as he puts aside his vaccine carrier carefully.
The indigenous communities living in these remote areas are critical populations to be vaccinated during the ongoing polio outbreak response and vaccination drives in Zambia. However, reaching them remains a challenge. Recognizing these constraints, the Ministry of Health (MOH), Zambia, in collaboration with UNICEF and the Global Program on Expanded Immunization (GPEI) partners, developed flexible strategies and a plan of action to enable consistent outreach and adaptation of innovative, locally tailored approaches to communicate, including through local government officials, community leaders, religious leaders, and community-based volunteers.
UNICEF is closely supporting the MoH in vaccination drives, cold chain management and community outreach and mobilization as a part of the overall polio outbreak response in Zambia. The support also includes training the health workers and community mobilisers, logistics and distribution of vaccines, and monitoring and supervision of all the campaigns.
“Our health staff is committed to providing health services to our children. However, the lack of mobile telecommunication, motorcycles or boats impede these efforts especially during emergencies,” says Musumpu, the headman and chief of the West Bank village, Zambezi district. “Our community would benefit tremendously, and we would be delighted if we are helped with mobility, and provision of satellite phones to help mitigate some of the challenges we face here in ensuring our children can be safe and have a fair chance to live healthy lives,” he adds.