For a year and a half, we have had to adapt and change our daily lives in many ways, all while living with the fear of an uncertain future. In our community, the new challenges that the pandemic posed compounded many existing issues. In the case of a COVID-19 outbreak with severe illness, the non-availability of emergency transport to care or adequate medical equipment at our hospitals would make the situation dire.

Makhulu being vaccinated at Jujurha Early Childhood Development Centre.

Given the urgency of our situation, the Bulungula Incubator team shifted focus to protecting our community members against the virus. After a year of preventative measures and uncertainty, our world’s leading scientists developed a vaccine against COVID, and rollout began across South Africa. The vaccine not only reduces the risk of infection and severe illness, but it also offers a sense of assurance and ease.

We recognise that support for caregiver health and emotional well-being is key for optimal child development. For children to achieve their full potential, they require protection from harm and a sense of security by parents and caregivers who love them.

Mother waiting to be vaccinated with her child

Caring for the caregivers is a critical priority, and enables our children to grow and thrive.

Historically in our communities, we have had limited exposure to adult vaccination campaigns, so in order to promote vaccine readiness with reliable and relevant information in isiXhosa, we launched our Vaccine Literacy Campaign. Our Vaccine Literacy posters were used as educational tools during daily home visits by our Nomakhayas (community health workers), used as scripts and broadcasted at the Bulungula Community Radio, and shared and hung up in the community hubs, including at spazas, shebeens, schools, and community WhatsApp groups. This campaign inevitably supported high uptake and limited vaccine hesitancy in our community.

After months of preparation and successful advocacy efforts, we strengthened our relationship with the Department of Health, and the Bulungula Incubator became the first community vaccine outreach site in our area. Since June, we have hosted eight outreach days, and have secured the provision of COVID-19 vaccines to over 1,000 community members—three of which took place at our Jujurha Early Childhood Development Centre.

Now, 95% of our over 60 and most vulnerable, and ±55% of our over 18 community members are vaccinated, and able to care and nurture our children without the threat of serious COVID-19 illness—allowing us to return to a semblance of ‘normal’.

Nomakhayas (community health workers) assisted in pre-registering for vaccine at Jujurha ECDC 

Our ongoing work to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic has not been a simple task. We have poured immense thought, effort, coordination, and action to ensure the health and safety of our community members. As the pandemic continues, we have comfort in knowing that we have done the best we can to support a situation that under different circumstances, could have been drastically different.

( Photocredit: Sigrid Kite, Bulungula Incubator)