The Gambia government through the Ministry of Health says it’s committed to vaccinating the most vulnerable people in the community such as the elderly and differently abled individuals across the country.
Gibril Gando Baldeh, Senior Health Communication Officer at the Health Communication Unit under the Directorate of Health Promotion and Education told this medium in an interview that when the Covid-19 vaccine came, it was given based on priorities and among these priorities are the people having the highest risk of getting the virus.
“Among these people are elderly and disabled individuals. They were given top priorities when the Covid-19 vaccination started in The Gambia. We followed the WHO recommendations to first immunise health workers, elders and those living with preexisting conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and others,” he said.
In his assessment of the government’s efforts in vaccinating the vulnerable individuals, Mr. Baldeh explained that The Gambia government ensured that those people were first given the opportunity to be vaccinated. He added that they hope this had gone a long way in preventing hospitalisation and deaths among the population, pointing out that since the inception of Covid-19 in the country, it has claimed the lives of 368 people.
Dwelling on the government’s improvement to vaccinate the disabled and the elderly, he said “people living with mental disabilities should be given the priority to be vaccinated because it will go a long way in coping with the risk of transmission. We should see how best to come up with strategies to make sure that during the vaccination campaigns and our health interventions, they are also given priority like others.”
Speaking on the accessibility of vaccination centres for elders and differently able individuals, Baldeh reiterated that they have strategic places within the communities, which they believe are really conducive, accessible and safe to the public.
“We have free places where we conduct our vaccination exercises and all vulnerable groups are given equal opportunity. Sometimes we ensure that those who are differently able and elders are not allowed to queue, instead, they are given emergency treatment and treated with urgency.”
He urged families of elderly and differently able individuals to bring them to the centres during the vaccination period so that they could be given equal opportunity like other citizens.
Recently the Ministry of Health in collaboration with partners announced plans to embark on another round of a countrywide COVID-19 vaccination campaign from the 11th to 20th August 2022. The campaign was part of the Gambia government’s strategy to scale up COVID-19 vaccination coverage to 70% of the population by the end of the year.
Speaking to vaccinated differently able persons, Hagie Drammeh, a press attaché at Gambia Paralympic Committee, welcomes the ministry’s efforts to fight the pandemic, saying he trusts the vaccine based on World Health Organisation’s advice and recommendations.
He said that there is no segregation in vaccines uptake and that the government is encouraging people to get the jab.
He added that the government should improve on easy facilitation, focusing on differently able individuals. According to Mr. Drammeh, the “government should increase the vaccination sites to include all health facilities with special staff. I don’t think there may be any difficulties in places where vaccinations are done, hence the service centres so far are reasonably accessible and support staff should be available.”
Alhagie Muhammeh Sillah of Latrikunda, who is in his 70s, also applauded the government’s efforts in reaching out to communities in order to get them vaccinated, saying the prioritisation of elderly in almost all the vaccination centres is a great sign of commitment from the government.
“I am aware that the ministry is currently embarking on a nationwide vaccination campaign. I urge them to focus more on the elders because we were told that the covid-19 pandemic easily affects the elderly people than the young ones due to some health complications we might live with.”
“Despite the government’s efforts to vaccinate the elderly, there are still people who do not believe in the vaccine. The ministry should continue its sensitisation programmes to avail the public the opportunity to further clear their doubts and convince them on vaccine uptake in the quest to fight the covid-19 pandemic,” he added.
Fatoumatta Cham of Nema – in the West Coast Region, also thanked The Gambia government for providing the vaccines for the citizens and encouraging the elders to get vaccinated. She said that is a sign of care and responsibility in addressing the needs of its people.
“Vaccination sites are accessible for people to reach and get vaccinated. When I was there to get the vaccine, I didn’t encounter any difficulties or disrespectful comments from the public health officers. Notwithstanding, there were many people and I was able to wait for my turn. For me, the most important thing is that I am vaccinated and this gave me a resting mind.”
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19 in partnership with Kaba Communications and The Point.