Nikisi: Elderlies’ Safe Haven Amid COVID19
Thomas Mgundo needs enough time to remember and calculate how many grandchildren he has. Minus that, he only recalls he has about forty of them.
Neither can he tell how old he is. At least he is able to remember that he was born on 10 June, 1938. He lives in the area of Village Headwoman Nikisi, Traditional Authority Kanduku in Malawi’s southern region district of Mwanza.
Mgundo used to be a very vibrant commercial and subsistence farmer in his area. In terms of food, nothing was wanting at his home.
Life of this father of eight children, however, changed drastically in 2013 when he lost sight. His miseries sharply went up in 2014 when he was hit by stroke which was a result of high blood pressure.
His whole right-hand side got paralyzed. He hardly hears. That was a turnaround of Mgundo’s life.
“I can’t walk. I am blind. I am just a human being who rely on people to be fed and helped for mobility,” said Mgundo.
As an ardent radio listener, he one day came across message on radio about COVID-19 that it has raised havoc globally.
News that the elderly and others with underlying conditions are more vulnerable to the pandemic worried him the most.
Why? “Because I am old and sick,” he answered.
Rays of hope beamed on him one day when he heard on radio that scientists have developed vaccine to save people from the pandemic.
“But I was worried that maybe I could not manage to be vaccinated,” he said.
Another cause for worry for him were myths and misconceptions “that once vaccinated, one cannot live beyond five months. A lot were said bad about the vaccine. I was worried but I still needed it.
“It was on radio that I also heard that all this negative information about the vaccine is fake. I knew it is fake news because I, myself, have gone through many vaccines in my life to be alive to date.”
Although Mgundo was now relieved that the vaccine is safe, worries continued coming into him.
“You see I cannot walk. Neither can I see. How can I travel to the health facility to access the vaccine? To get to the nearest facility at Tulonkhondo, people walk for about two hours. It is even expensive to hire a motorcycle to get there,” he said.
Amidst his worries came Save the Children with the European Union supported “NGO Coalition - Supporting the rollout of Malawi’s COVID-19 national vaccination campaign.”
The campaign aimed at reducing the further spread of COVID-19 in Malawi by enhancing access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
It goes in line with the National COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment Plan and the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (AfCDC).
Through the campaign, COVID-19 vaccine is taken closer to the people at their door steps.
This was a blessing to Mgundo who got jabbed in October, 2021 after the campaign was rolled out in September in his area.
“The only way to save me from the disease was to get the jab at home, which happened. For me to go to the health center, it meant borrowing money for transport, a motorcycle, both for me and my guardian. This was hardly attainable to me,” he said.
“Medical officers and traditional leaders facilitated the process for me to be vaccinated at my home. I have not felt or seen any side effect since September last year when I got the vaccine.
“If it were not for this initiative of taking the vaccine to our door step, I am afraid I could have been dead by now,” he said.
Mwanza Environmental Health Officer who is also cluster supervisor for Tulonkhondo area, Tamandani Kuchanje, says through the campaign, all the elderlies at Nikisi area have been vaccinated.
“Tulonkhondo has a population of 22, 720 people, 170 households. Nikisi area has 784 people, 170 households. 110 percent of Tulonkhondo is vaccinated, 4 percent of it is fully vaccinated.
“48 percent of people from Nikisi are vaccinated. There are 24 elderlies in the area. 39 elderly people are now vaccinated in the area, against the target of 24. The overage is because some of the vaccinated were just visiting elderlies. These are people of 60 years old and above,” he said.
“We carry out outreach meetings and door to door meetings with messages of covid19 to the elderly and other vulnerable groups of people. The initiative is bearing fruits as more people are getting the vaccine,” added Kuchanje.
Village headwoman Nikisi said that “more people in my area were dying after short illness but we did not know what caused the deaths. I suspect they were dying because of covid because from the time people started receiving the jab, such deaths are no more,” she said.
“I led people in my area to get the vaccine to dispel myths and misconceptions that were circulating that once you get the jab, you will not leave beyond two months. I got the jab and here I am today. Now more people are getting the jab because I am a living testimony,” she added.
Campaign and Communications Officer for Save the Children, Laurent Kumchenga, said they are making strides in taking the vaccine closest to the elderlies and other people through the campaign.
“We train health workers to be adequately equipped with information for reach out meetings. The national goal is to have 30 percent of the population vaccinated by the end of March this year.
“In some areas where we are implementing this project, we have surpassed the target, some are at 70 percent some at 80 percent,” he said.
Kumchenga said the campaign is working with people who are trusted in their communities to raise awareness and woo more people to get vaccinated.
“People such as religious and traditional leaders. One of challenges that came with COVID-19 is to keep people away from each other. We are meeting people in small groups with covid messages at their door steps. We have a big impact in our target areas,” he said.