MOKHOTLONG – As one of the hard-to-reach areas in Mokhotlong, Ha ’Meta is one the most marginalised communities when it comes to health services provision, yet it is among the few that are determined to fight the spread of Covid-19 in any way possible. The majority of community members from Ha ’Meta got their Covid vaccine and are now ready for the booster shots.
Area Chief of Ha ’Meta, Mamonkeng Khothe, aged 75 told Public Eye that despite conspiracies surrounding Covid-19 and the Covid-19 vaccine, she and her people have never had doubts that vaccination is the only way in which they can fight the spread of the virus so when health service officials came to their village to vaccinate them, no one hesitated to take the jab. Before they got vaccinated, she said, they were a little confused by the conspiracies but then district health officials carried out an outreach programme to their village and taught them about the virus, the vaccine and its possible side effects.
She said the teachings eased their fears, confusion and doubts they ever had about the vaccine and is now proud and happy that her people took the decision to get vaccinated. “Before we were vaccinated, health workers visited our village, taught us about the virus and the vaccine. They came back later to vaccinate us. Here in my village no one has dodged the vaccine and all vaccinated voluntarily and are ready for the booster vaccine,” she said.
Khothe noted that she did not experience any side effects from the vaccine and to date no one in her village has tested positive to Covid-19. She said the only challenge is with their children who ran away from school during vaccination because of misconceptions about the vaccine. The chief said they are trying their best to teach their children about the vaccine and hopefully they will understand the importance of vaccinating.
On the other hand, ’Makoneatsane Nkere, 69, is among the people that got vaccinated but experienced severe headaches for two weeks which she says came soon after vaccinating. Nkere had to nurse her headache at home as she says she had no means to get to the health centre as she had to walk for several kilometres and her knee has been failing her for some time.
She said the only time they get health services is during health centres’ outreach programmes. Although they have three village health workers in their village, they are as good as non-existent as they neither help them with capacitation on health issues nor afford them any health services at village level.
Nkere says when they have a patient they are compelled to ask for financial contributions from community members failing which means they will have to nurse the sick back to health on their own. Ha ’Meta community is dominated by elders who are babysitting their grandchildren and great grand children as their mothers have left the country to South Africa, mostly Durban, for greener pastures but never come back.
Most of these elders take lifetime medication for ailments including HIV and high blood pressure. Collecting medication on a monthly basis has been a struggle for them this year not just because of the distance they have to walk or money to pay for their transportation but also because their only bridge, Khubelu bridge, collapsed a few months ago due to severe rainfall.
Chief Khote says because of this people collect their medication using horses or donkeys while others risk their lives and cross on foot. This year alone several people were swept away by the river while trying to cross on foot. She said there have not been any promises from those in power to repair their bridge.
“We have a dilemma here. We have to choose whether we get killed by not adhering to our medication or by the flooded river trying to cross the damaged bridge,” Khote further noted. Khote looks after three grand grandchildren aged 12, 10 and eight single-handedly since their mother left the village to South Africa some years back.
She and other community members survive on rotationally brewing traditional beer for sale so that they can put food on the table for their respective families. A fraction of the community survives on agriculture and mostly produce beans, sorghum and maize for consumption. However, they say because of severe weather conditions, production had drastically declined and they too struggle to feed their families.
Most of these elders are between the ages 60 to 69 and do not get any financial or social support from the government. These struggles by the Ha ’Meta community were discovered during outreach undertaken by representatives from the ministry of health, NACOSEC, District Risk Communication and Community Engagement Pillar and the World Health Organisation (WHO). This is a two-week campaign supported by WHO.
Speaking to WHO Health Promotion Officer, Lerato Mxakaza, on what motivated the initiative, he said vaccine hesitancy has affected Covid-19 adult vaccination programmes in many countries. He said to vaccinate or not to vaccinate has become a pertinent question facing Lesotho and global citizens during the times of Covid-19. “While vaccine coverage across the country is steadily increasing, infections and deaths attributed to Covid are also low. However, not all districts are performing well in vaccinations coverage.
“There is need to intensify vaccination among adults and youth to avoid severe illness, hospitalisation and possible death and to reach the national vaccination goal,” he said. He further noted that according to the vaccination pillar weekly report, Qacha’s Nek, Quthing and Mokhotlong have recorded the lowest vaccination hence the initiative targets rural areas and hard-to-reach places from these three districts.
He said these districts need exclusive support in community engagement and social mobilisation activities. Mxakaza said the objective of the campaign is to support districts to escalate Covid-19 and Covid-19 vaccine messages to the rural communities, raise awareness of the continuation of the Covid-19 pandemic and the benefits of vaccinations.
He said it is also meant to sensitise communities on the need to continue to adhere to public health measures even when vaccinated. The activities included but were not limited to one-day meetings with DRCCE, community focus group discussions to stimulate dialogue on Covid-19 and Covid-19 vaccines, distribution of Information Education Communication materials, door-to-door mobilization and visits at local schools for mobilisation.