Community members unite to get COVID-19 shots in the arms of Tanzanians

Story by Megan Bordi, USAID / Photos and Video by Stefano Bianco for USAID

Abdi Kasige Simba, a traditional healer in the Iringa region of Tanzania, understands COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. “For some, to be vaccinated is contrary to our morals and culture,” he said. Even he needed some convincing. 

But once he experienced no negative side effects after receiving his own vaccination, Abdi joined a diverse set of community leaders in the promotion of COVID-19 vaccinations to Tanzanians.

“Our natural medicines and the vaccine are very similar,” Abdi said. “The only difference is the design of the medicine. But the goal [of both] is to heal people.” 

Through the Initiative for Global Vaccine Access (Global VAX), USAID partnered with the Government of Tanzania to rapidly vaccinate the country against COVID-19 using a variety of strategies, such as harnessing the influence of community leaders. In just five months, the country's vaccination rate jumped from 15% to 87% of the eligible population.

A traditional healer.
A traditional healer holds tools and instruments he uses for healing ceremonies.
A hand is holding instruments used in traditional healing ceremonies.

In addition to healers, religious leaders from all faiths have served as ambassadors in their communities, helping people understand both the safety and importance of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Salim Binde, a Muslim religious leader, uses his place of worship to educate the community, dispelling rumors and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. “Some people think the vaccine can make women sterile and destroy their menstrual system. For men, they feared becoming impotent,” he said.

“Before the vaccination session in Iringa, the situation was chaotic," Salim said. "We now say thank you, because after taking the vaccine, the situation returned to calm."
 A man holding a book and standing in front of a Islamic wall art.
A man reading from a book while holding a microphone.
A man kneeling in prayer in the Islamic tradition.

Government officials have also played an important role in increasing awareness about the vaccine. Iringa District Commissioner Mohamed Moyo raises the topic in community meetings. 

“I educate and influence people with real examples that this vaccine is not harmful,” Mohamed said. “Sometimes I also show my vaccination card and pictures to support it.” 

Mohamed coordinates with health care workers to ensure mobile vaccination units are on-site at meetings so those eligible can get the shot immediately.

Man at a table outdoors speaking to a group of people.
A man holding a microphone and a COVID-19 vaccination card.
Three people observe COVID-19 vaccination supplies at an outdoor table.

Health care workers also attend larger events, such as community radio shows and football matches, to reach more people with the vaccine, but not everyone is comfortable due to a perceived stigma. 

“There were those who were afraid to be vaccinated in public, but at home it was easy for them to understand and make a decision,” said Mgambi Malembela, a health care worker in Iringa.

When Mgambi and her team saw this, they had the idea to take the vaccines door to door. 

“We formed groups of four per household and talked to almost 90 to 120 people per day. And we were successful that way,” Mgambi said.

A man with large headphones sits at a desk behind a laptop and a large microphone with other people standing nearby.
Two men stand in front of a table with an insulated box labeled Vaccine.
Two women stand outside next to a table that holds medical supplies for a vaccination drive.

Together, these diverse community members educate, influence, and convince others to take COVID-19 vaccines, helping to save lives and keep Tanzanians safe and healthy.

About this Story

Through the U.S. Government’s Initiative for Global Vaccine Access, or Global VAX, USAID has provided $25 million in additional support to rapidly expand vaccination coverage and fight COVID-19 in Tanzania. With this support, and through our successful partnership with the Government of Tanzania, the country has surpassed its national vaccination goal and reached a vaccination rate of 87 percent of the eligible population as of Nov. 4. Just five months ago, the country’s vaccination rate of the eligible population was just 15 percent. The U.S. Government is committed to continuing to collaborate with the Government of Tanzania to increase uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine, keeping Tanzanians safe and healthy.

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