How Limpopo – one of SA's poorest provinces – is leading SA’s vaccine rollout

Business Insider SA
Limpopo Covid-19 vaccine
(Photo by ER Lombard/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
  • Limpopo is South Africa's second-poorest province, with more than 80% of its population living in under-resourced rural areas.
  • Despite this, the province has managed to register 66% of residents over the age of 60 for their Covid-19 vaccinations.
  • It's also already vaccinated 6.37% of the adult population, outpacing the national average.
  • Using an army of 9,000 community healthcare workers and getting churches on-board have been underpinned this success, says Limpopo's health MEC.
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Limpopo is leading South Africa's Covid-19 vaccine rollout, with more than 66% of its senior citizens registered for their jabs and 6.37% of the province's adult population having already received at least one dose.

South Africa's troubled mass vaccination programme passed the two-million mark on Thursday. Around 3.3% of South Africa's total population – 5.20% of the adult population – has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. The country hopes to achieve herd immunity by vaccinating 67% of the population by mid-2022.

It's been a month since Phase 2 of the rollout began, with South Africans over the age of 60 following in the footsteps of frontline healthcare workers prioritised for vaccination during the first phase. More than 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered across hundreds of vaccination sites during the second phase which is soon to include essential workers such as teachers, police officers, mineworkers, and taxi drivers.

READ | Gauteng accounts for 60% of SA's third wave – and its vaccine rollout is slower than Limpopo's

Although the start of the national vaccine race has been slow – constricted by supply delays and abandoned doses – some provinces are already surging ahead with the limited resources at their disposal.

Limpopo, which is one of the poorest province in the South Africa alongside the Eastern Cape, is an unlikely frontrunner. Despite South Africa's northern-most province suffering from a chronic lack of resources – particularly in the public health sector – with more than 80% of the population living in rural areas, Limpopo is vaccinating its residents at one of the fastest rates in the country.

More than 66% of residents over the age of 60 have registered to receive their jabs via the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS). Limpopo's registration rate is almost 20% higher than the Western Cape's and 30% higher than Gauteng's.

Limpopo's vaccination-to-population ratio is similar to that recorded in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, two provinces with considerably better access to healthcare resources and a higher portion of urban residents.

"When we are given a task by national [government], we put a lot of effort into the planning… because we know our material conditions are completely different from other provinces which have their own metros and urban areas [and] we are predominantly rural," Limpopo Health MEC, Phophi Ramathuba, said during an interview with eNCA on Friday.

"We knew our areas have challenges in terms of network connectivity [and] we knew this category of senior citizens are not familiar with [the] internet… and they don't even have smartphones."

To deal with these issues, Limpopo's department of health veered away from the national self-registration plan, which placed the responsibility on individuals to register on the EVDS to secure a vaccination appointment. Limpopo, instead, ordered all hospitals, clinics, and community healthcare centres in the province to assist all elderly residents with registering on the EVDS. But the part of the plan which worked out best, according to Ramathuba, was activating more than 9,000 community healthcare workers, equipped with smartphones, to conduct door-to-door registration campaigns in far-flung villages.

"We allocated them [community healthcare workers] those android phones and loaded them with data," explained Ramathuba.

"We've been using them, even prior to Covid-19, to do door-to-door [campaigns] on TB screenings, HIV and AIDS. They are home-based carers who are supporting patients. They know the environment, they know their villages and their wards."

But registering on the EVDS is just one component of the vaccine rollout and Ramathuba says getting Limpopo residents to the sites on the day of vaccination was an equally important consideration for the province. To combat vaccine hesitancy, Ramathuba's department turned to the province's churches and traditional leaders to help allay any fears in communities.

"We know our people have strong beliefs in our own churches, in our own bishops, [and] we also know that we do believe in our traditional leaders," said Ramathuba.

"Our people have so much confidence in them, [more] than [they have] in us as politicians and even health professionals… they don't trust their doctors more than they would trust their [traditional] leadership."

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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