Tanzanian HJFMRI staff recognised as a hero for championing Covid-19 vaccination response

THE US Embassy in Tanzania has named Dr Hamada Shaban as one of the ‘Heroes of the Fight against Covid-19’ in Tanzania for his valuable contributions and devoted efforts in Tanzania’s vaccination campaign against Covid-19.

The U.S. Embassy honoured Dr Shaban and other chosen heroes of the fight against Covid-19 at a special event on Thursday, November 10 in Dar es Salaam.

Dr Shaban supported Covid-19 response activities in Mbeya, Songwe, Katavi and Rukwa in the Southern Highlands through a PEPFAR-funded programme of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), implemented by HJF Medical Research International (HJFMRI) and supported under the modality of the American Relief Plan Act (ARPA) since September 2021.

He joined HJFMRI as ARPA coordinator in March 2022 when the southern regions were lagging behind on Covid-19 vaccination data, with Mbeya and Songwe being the regions having the fewest vaccinated people compared to other regions.

Speaking in the award, Director of Research services and ARPA funds Coordinator at HJFMRI Dr Emmanuel Bahemana commended Dr Shaban for being named a winner, recalling his footsteps that contributed to the success that have been attained.

“It was quite challenging and frustrating seeing that we have received the ARPA funding to implement Covid-19 activities, but our four regions were lagging compared to other regions. We didn’t have a focused plan because we wanted to get almost everything done simultaneously, from supporting facilities with supplies, conducting capacity building to health providers, conducting vaccination,” he said.

Adding; “First, he came with an idea that since we are working to support regions with lowest vaccination rates, we had no option rather than figuring out the best way to get everyone vaccinated in our regions and jump to the top, but also capacitate our health facilities and empower providers with skills”.

To set up the best plan for the regions, Dr Shaban initiated a collaborative regional council health management team (RCHMT) including representatives from the Ministry of Health and President’s Office Regional Administration and Local Government to conduct a baseline assessment to identify the gaps and areas to be supported under the ARPA funds.

“By then all our four regions had reached only 14 per cent of the national vaccination target against the needs of at least a region to vaccinate 75 per cent of its population by December 2022. Mbeya alone by then had vaccinated 5 per cent only,” he said.

According to him, the baseline helped them to task each region and council to come up with the work plan and areas where they needed much support. A majority had an issue of logistical challenges as they had no capacity particularly to distribute Covid-19 vaccine from national, regional, and district centres to the facilities.

For some being a Covid-19 coordinator it’s a sense of duty. But for him, this was an obligation and a necessity.

He also learned from the baseline assessment that another challenge was lack of community involvement, as regions and councils couldn’t afford to conduct outreach programmes and awareness campaigns because it was quite expensive, and they didn’t have capacity.

With an ambition to meet his target and ensure everyone has an equitable access to the vaccine, Dr Shaban takes pride in addressing these challenges with a clear work plan to tackle them while nobody knows exactly what lay ahead.

Immediately after the baseline assessment, in collaboration with Regional and Council Health Management Teams (RCHMT and CHMT), HJFMRI agreed to support the logistic movement of the vaccine from the national level to the facilities to ensure there is Covid-19 vaccine at every health facility and at all vaccination points in all four regions. Awareness rising to the community on coronavirus prevention and control measures has been a main priority.

Dr Shaban’s team managed to deploy a quite number of health providers who also engaged the local leaders to influence the community.

The main focus was to have communityled vaccination exercises to help implement door-to-door vaccination, vaccination at community events including at social functions, outreach in churches, markets, and busy terminals to ensure that no one is left behind.

According to the Ministry of Health, as of 30th October 2022, HJFMRI and other partners had only vaccinated 1,674,592 out of 2,908,597 people which is 57.6 per cent of the National target is to reach 75 per cent by December 2022.

The initial target was to support the Government of Tanzania to vaccinate 40 per cent and 70 per cent of the Tanzanian adult population living in Rukwa, Katavi, Mbeya and Songwe regions, by June and December 2022, respectively. By the end of October, Mbeya region had reached its target by vaccinating 1,210,079 clients, and Songwe, unexpectedly, had exceeded its target by vaccinating 738,218 clients.

Rukwa and Katavi have reached 107 per cent and 59 per cent of its targets respectively after vaccinating 786,016 clients in Rukwa and 217,017 clients in Katavi.

With the ARPA funding, HJFMRI is working to address the impact of Covid-19 in 21 supported councils Mbeya, Songwe, Rukwa and Katavi regions and 21 supported Military facilities in Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar.

The activities supported through this funding includes facilitation of community sensitization meetings, facilitation of diversification of vaccination centres to the communities and tier 1 and 2 CTC facilities with high number of PLHIV, support of Risk Communication and Community Engagement services including supporting of Public Announcements, Printing, and distribution of promotional materials and also strengthening

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