Cape Town | In its continued efforts to support the country in ramping up its COVID-19 vaccination drive, the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) in collaboration with the Chan Soon Shiong Foundation have launched the Mobile COVID-19 Vaccine Project. The project commenced on Tuesday, 6 July in Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape.
The Project aims to vaccinate the elderly citizens queuing at various social grant pay points. More than 4.2 million people in South Africa aged sixty (60) years and older, receive a monthly grant and the vast majority of these recipients receive this grant in cash by going to retail stores, banks, the South African Post office (SAPO) and mobile grant cashpoints run by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA).
With implementing partners, Right to Care (RTC) and the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) and in collaboration with the Eastern Cape Department of Health (ECDoH) and National Department of Health (NDoH), the Project will see three mobile trucks offering vaccines to all recipients of the Older Persons Grant in three grant queues in the area.
According to the project initiator, Jane Simmonds, a research manager at the SAMRC, grant queues provide an innovative and exciting opportunity to offer COVID-19 vaccines to the most marginalised and vulnerable people in South Africa - older persons who are receiving grants. “Older persons are not at school, they are not at work and they do not have money to travel to get vaccines, but they are in grant queues every month,” she said.
Funded by the Chan Soon Shiong Foundation, the family foundation of Patrick Soon Shiong, a South African-American doctor, two mobile trucks managed by RTC which were commissioned and funded by the SAMRC as part of the Sisonke Study, will be placed at the two Boxer stores. A third truck, a mobile laboratory supplied by the NHLS and placed outside the Post Office, will be on site in Lusikisiki for the first three days of the grant payment cycle.
“The SAMRC is currently evaluating interventions to address hypertension by screening pensioners in grant queues, so providing COVID-19 vaccines at these venues is a logical extension. We are committed to innovate to improve the health of our aged”, says Prof Glenda Gray, President and CEO of the SAMRC.
After the three days on site in Lusikisiki, the two Right to Care mobile trucks will move into the rural areas of Ingquza Hill Local Municipality for five days as part of a drive to bring COVID-19 vaccines to people who are not able to travel to towns. Working with SASSA, this team will offer vaccines to people in the SASSA mobile grant payment queues.
“Vaccinating the most vulnerable populations of rural South Africa, our grandmothers and grandfathers, living in remote and underserved communities, must be a priority of the vaccination program. These elderly people cannot be asked to survive COVID-19 without an opportunity to vaccinate in a middle-income country,” said CEO of Right to Care, Prof Ian Sanne.
NHLS CEO, Dr Kamy Chetty said during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people who tested for other communicable and non-communicable diseases dropped. “The NHLS is quite concerned about this and therefore, it is imperative that community screening for these diseases be carried out to improve equitable access to health care across the country, especially in deep rural areas,” said Dr Chetty, adding that they are very excited about this partnership.
This is the first step in the vision of the founder of the Chan Soon Shiong Foundation, Patrick Soon Shiong to improve access to health for the vulnerable, and often forgotten population, of people who are sixty years and older. These people hold families and communities together and their health need to be supported. Working with the NHLS, Soon Shiong plans to have 67 mobile labs offering COVID vaccines and screening for TB, diabetes, hypertension, and HIV rolled out at grant queues in all South African districts in August.
As Soon Shiong says, “Providing access to care to the elderly and vulnerable in the communities where they live is an important initiative. Having grown up in the Eastern Cape it is a privilege to be able to support this innovative mobile van vaccination program”.
NOTE TO THE EDITOR:
This initiative is an extension of several interventions developed and led by the SAMRC to support the country’s vaccination drive which aims to achieve 67% herd immunity by December. The organisation played a key role in initiating the national rollout of COVID-19 vaccination through an implementation study known as Sisonke which saw more than 480 000 healthcare workers vaccinated at over 93 vaccination sites nationwide – this was necessary to maintain a healthy work force to deal with the predicted third wave of COVID-19 infections and admissions that the country is currently experiencing.
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