Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda are set to benefit from a Vaccination Action Network (VAN), a peer-to-peer learning initiative that will strengthen health systems, while scaling up COVID-19 vaccine demand strategies.
The Rockefeller Foundation Tuesday announced the launch of the VAN, a Sh. 880,970,000 (USD7.4 million) locally-led, peer-to-peer learning initiative that will engage public health decision-makers across Sub-Saharan Africa.
Amref Health Africa will be playing a key role to guide and administer subgrants to local organizations in participating countries so that they can implement vaccine demand generation strategies.
In a press release today, the network is already connecting Ministry of Health officials, implementing partners, and other key actors across the four countries through activities designed to take place within and between countries so that participants can share lessons learned and best practices for boosting local demand for Covid-19 vaccines.
“The Vaccination Action Network is helping to establish new channels of communication that will consistently elevate regional learnings, solutions, and leadership,” said William Asiko, Vice President of the Rockefeller Foundation Africa Regional Office.
By making these discussions country-led, he noted that they want to create a space, where those directly involved in vaccination campaigns are able to voice what is working, what is not, and what needs to change to improve vaccination rates.
Peer-to-peer learning, Asiko explained is an important tool for officials who are working to address challenges saying that since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the type of intra- and inter-country coordination has helped the continent scale up genomic sequencing and secure essential tools, including personal protective equipment and diagnostic tests.
Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO at Amref said that by encouraging officials to come together, the Vaccination Action Network is opening new dialogues that emphasize regional solutions to local challenges.
“This is essential to tackle vaccine equity issues, which are tied to national and regional contexts, but also offers countries an opportunity for longer term coordination on other priorities,” he said
Dr. Diana Atwine, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Uganda said that plans to expand to other countries in the region are underway as well in this community-based approach that brings together counterparts from across the region and country.
Mohammed Lamorde, Head of Global Health Security at Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) at Makerere University in Kampala noted that the biggest takeaways from the VAN conversation is that there is need to do more to engage communities with accurate and approachable information on Covid-19 vaccines, leaning on lessons learned from other health challenges such as HIV and Ebola.
While more than 60 percent of people have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 globally, just 20 percent of people in Africa have received full doses due to inconsistent and inequitable access to supplies which initially hindered the continent’s vaccination campaigns.
According to Rockefeller, VAN will host monthly intra-country sessions and multiple cross-country discussions before the end of the calendar year, with the goal of turning learnings from these sessions into actionable solutions.
To facilitate this, VAN is supporting Amref through a Sh593,750,000 (USD5 million) grant to design and implement tailored strategies that better reflect local needs and address demand barriers for increased vaccine uptake.
VAN’s objective is to help decision-makers understand the drivers behind vaccination and support initiatives that will increase Covid-19 vaccine uptake, while strengthening routine immunization so that health systems are better equipped to respond when the next pandemic strikes.
VAN represents the Global Vaccination Initiative (GVI)’s first major investment in overcoming low vaccine demand in Africa, launched in April 2022.
The Rockefeller is also supporting country led efforts to fully vaccinate 90 percent of the most at-risk populations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean over the next two years.
By Wangari Ndirangu