Engage civil society for last-mile Covid vaccination

Engage civil society for last-mile Covid vaccination

OVER the past weeks, we have seen the ramp-up of vaccinations nationwide. We are heartened by the government’s move to increase the number of vaccination centres, as well as general practitioner clinics which will be providing vaccinations to the public.

However, there will always be a segment of the population who will be difficult to access, and in turn face difficulties in trying to get vaccinated – often termed in project management as the
“last-mile delivery challenges”.

These include vulnerable groups, underprivileged, those living in remote rural areas and those from the lowest socio-economic
groups.

Among the challenges these individuals and communities face in getting vaccinated are issues such as transport and logistics, language barriers, financial burden, lack of health and even general literacy in understanding the need to vaccinate.

The issues surrounding the successful
“last-mile delivery” are myriad, and added to this mix is the “powder-keg” of fake news, which has further worsened suspicion and distrust among a significant number of our communities.

We represent the long-standing, long-serving Civil Society Organisations (CSO) that has worked on the ground.

We would like to offer our services and assistance to the government, especially to tackle the last-mile delivery challenges in vaccination and ensure that all communities are equitably and completely vaccinated so that we can return to some semblance of normalcy.

How can CSO be beneficial?

Our CSO have had the experience of working specifically with communities on the ground for many years, if not decades. They understand the workings of these communities and in many instances, already have effective and successful partnerships with them in terms of programmes and services.

What is more important is that these organisations enjoy strong relationships and trust with community members – trust that is needed to leverage and overcome the trust deficit, which seems to be prevalent and is causing vaccine hesitancy.

Rather than listening to videos on social media of some unknown expert persuading them on the benefits of taking the Covid-19 vaccine, what is needed is a trusted community partner who has worked with them for many years, to provide on the ground explanations and, if needed, even one-to-one counselling that will enable individuals to register, and subsequently be guided through the vaccination process.

CSO will also be extremely beneficial to the process because they draw upon a reservoir of human resources different from the Health Ministry (MoH). Our news pages and social media pages are filled with stories of how our clinical colleagues in MoH and the Ministry of Envinronment are swamped with issues of managing the
Covid-19. They are busy treating, contact-tracing, swabbing and containing the spread of the disease spread.

CSO can alleviate this burden by bringing in external manpower, and are able to work across both the public/private divide. CSO also have a strong base of volunteers, and capabilities to maximise the use of limited resources in order to deliver. These will enable delivery to be done at highly
cost-effective means.

How will CSO carry out the mission?

CSO can work together with MoH at ground level, within sub-districts and districts to take on the load of vaccination across different states. They can be used to deploy in either small teams, or via mobile vehicles, to quickly and efficiently reach multiple areas, especially those that have multiple branches and state/district level organisations.

CSO will also be able to carry out counselling, structured health education and outreach in multiple languages within a diverse range of communities and groups. This is critical to convince individuals to overcome their hesitation and accept vaccination.

Additionally, CSO will also be able to provide transport and overcome other logistics barriers that different individuals and communities may face.

How to rope CSO into vaccination drive ?

The entire premise of this effort is based on the idea that CSO are ready and willing to go. Many of us have been continuously engaged since the Covid-19 pandemic in various initiatives, including working hand-in-hand with government agencies. We are no strangers to the system and can begin work immediately.

What we need:

i) approval and willingness of the government to utilise us in the vaccination effort – which is why we are appealing to the prime minister and relevant minister directly;

ii) integration into the overall vaccination effort – via supply of vaccines and direction on geographical distribution of tasks.

Countries like Bhutan managed to vaccinate their entire population entirely based on the strength of volunteers. We, the Malaysian CSO are ready and willing to serve our nation during this time of dire need and play a role in relieving the burden of our strained public healthcare services. All we need is the green light, so we can all finally see the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel.

Dr Murallitharan M., National Cancer Society of Malaysia

Datin Seri Sunita Rajakumar, Yayasan MYNADI

Roslizawati Md Ali, Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control and Health

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