The Race to Vaccinate Rural Africa
Our warehouse in Bolgatanga, where every basket is stored and processed, is always humming with activity. This was particularly true recently when it was transformed into a COVID-19 vaccination clinic, providing all of our African Market Baskets team in northern Ghana the opportunity to get a vaccine shot. Mobile clinics like this are essential in the more distant reaches of the country, as proven by the massive registration events that we organize annually in the region to get all of the weavers and their families signed up for healthcare.
Bolgatanga, located 500 miles north of the capital, Accra, is isolated in the Upper East region of Ghana. Whereas a combined 4 million people live in the three largest cities (Accra, Kumasi, and Tamale), Bolga is more rural and sparsely populated. In a sense, this acted as a natural buffer during earlier waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, when surges overtook hospitals in urban areas. Nevertheless, the virus eventually made its way throughout the entire country, with nationwide cases hitting 5,000 a week in early 2021 and again during the later Delta wave in July and August. In a chart updated daily by the WHO, as of spring 2022, Ghana has had over 161,000 cases and 1,400 deaths.
President Akufo-Addo Leads the Way
Amidst the climbing case count, promise and excitement greeted the arrival of the first shipment of vaccines provided by the COVAX facility on the tail end of the winter surge in early 2021. In a jubilant moment, Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo publicly received a vaccine shot on March 2, 2021, coinciding with the arrival of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. These vaccines marked one of the first significant milestones in the effort by COVAX to provide broad access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.
COVAX – Providing COVID-19 Vaccines to Those Most in Need
With the structural support of Gavi and Unicef, COVAX has now helped to distribute 14 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in Ghana as of spring 2022, and that number continues to climb daily. By pooling the purchasing power of wealthier supporting nations, COVAX aims to make vaccines more accessible across the African continent, which is still only around 15% vaccinated overall.
As Omicron continues its rapid spread, along with other yet-to-be-discovered variants in the pipeline, Ghana’s public health management is a model for other countries. With proper education and trusted health infrastructure, guided by the Ministry of Health, vaccine adoption in Ghana is above 90% for meningitis, polio, and whooping cough, while measles has been all but eliminated. And although slow to arrive initially, COVID-19 vaccines are now reaching even the most rural areas of Africa.
Having crossed the two-year mark from when COVID-19 first emerged, divisiveness threatens the sort of global collaboration that this moment requires. But each COVAX shipment and remote vaccine clinic, like this one in Bolgatanga, pushes us towards a more cooperative and equitable response to the pandemic.