Monday, June 14We Break the News

The challenge of rolling out vaccines in African conflict zones

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In March, Mercy Corps warned that countries that had the highest levels of violent conflict will most likely be the last to achieve widespread COVID-19 vaccination.

In a statement, the organization’s CEO, Tjada D’Oyen McKenna, said that “by the time vaccination efforts reach communities in fragile contexts, unequal distribution may itself deepen or sow new divisions.”

“Vaccine refusal may be high and compliance with public health guidelines may be low, further prolonging the spread of the virus and fueling protracted waves of conflict and economic disruption,” she said.

As vaccine rollouts begin in Africa, health experts in countries experiencing conflict fear that people living in such conflict zones are at a double disadvantage due to the conflict and limited continental access to vaccines.

Though some countries have mechanisms in place to roll out vaccines in their conflict zones, health experts have warned that the continent needs to secure enough doses before these rollouts can begin.

Vaccines outlawed

More than half of the 20 countries that experienced the highest levels of conflict in 2020 were African countries and according to Mercy Corps, these countries will most likely reach widespread vaccination in 2023 or later.

Ahmed Khalif, Somalia country director at Action Against Hunger, said in Somalia people living in regions controlled by Al-Shabaab will most likely not get access to vaccines as they have to choose between taking a chance with vaccine-preventable diseases or risk getting killed by the Al-Shabaab militant groups — who have outlawed vaccines.

“Al-Shabaab groups have given a pronouncement that they will not take the COVID-19 vaccine and that has been their position even before COVID-19, with routine immunization like measles, polio, [and] that has not changed,” he said.

“In our planning for these security-compromised areas, we engaged the military just like we did with the polio [vaccination program].”
Dr. Faisal Shuaib, executive director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency

In areas under the control of the government, vaccine hesitancy and resistance are being driven by misinformation which officials are striving to address. But in parts of the country that are controlled by the Al-Shabaab militant group, there is little or no hope that the COVID-19 vaccines will reach people there, considering the group has outrightly banned vaccination exercises, he said.

Action Against Hunger has been helping the Somalian health ministry with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, with the militant group’s position on vaccination clear, the organization has limited their interventions and COVID-19 vaccine support to parts of the country where they have full or partial access.

“It [rolling out vaccines] presents more security challenges than it will help them prevent the disease. Lives are affected at both levels — whether you get killed by them [Al-Shabaab] or by the disease,” Khalif said.

While Al-Shabaab has lost control over the port cities of Kismayo and Barawe, it controls the southern city of Jilib, which was made as its de facto capital, in addition to controlling parts of central and southern Somalia. It also has a resurgent presence in the north, where it is battling fighters affiliated with the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

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