In April 2023, the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), with the support of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Mastercard Foundation and implementing partners, conducted a two-week Rapid Results Initiative (RRI) COVID-19 vaccination campaign. The campaign’s primary objective was to accelerate the COVID-19 vaccination efforts and improve the low vaccination rates in DRC. This campaign has resulted in a total of 304,801 successfully vaccinated individuals.
The campaign aimed to administer booster shots to priority groups such as elderly persons with co-morbidities and healthcare workers as part of the 2023 acceleration plan for COVID-19 vaccination. The campaign reached 212,150 people in Kinshasa and 92,651 people in Lualaba. Out of those who were vaccinated, 9,958 were the elderly, 1,679 people with co-morbidities and 1,317 were healthcare workers.
“The Ministry of Health identified the mass vaccination campaign as one of the strategies to rapidly increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake by the eligible population in DRC. ‘We encourage community influencers to support social mobilization, strengthen risk communication, and community engagement through local communication and youth engagement using the Bingwa Initiative in getting more of the populations vaccinated,” Dr Fabrice Kankolongo, Chief Medical Special Advisor, Office of the Minister of Health, Hygiene and Prevention Kinshasa.
Several implementing partners actively participated, including; Global Security Health Systems (GHSS), DRC Red Cross, and World Food Programme (WFP). The RRI campaign was carried out in a total of 49 health zones, including 35 health zones in Kinshasa (Kinshasa Centre, East and West Branches) and 14 health zones in Lualaba. To ensure the ‘ ‘campaign’s success, the Ministry of Health established 487 fixed vaccination sites and 65 mobile teams of GHSS (45 for Kinshasa and 20 for Lualaba), where mobile teams vaccinated at least twice the number of people vaccinated daily by fixed teams.
Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) activities preceded the campaign, including door-to-door community mobilization, radio jingles and spots, targeted announcements, roadshows, posters, leaflets, and flyers distribution. Similarly, the Bingwa initiative provided significant on-site live entertainment through roadshows and infotainment during the vaccination to engage the youth population. This included mobile trucks that set up immunization tents at strategic public spaces with vaccine mobile teams, comedians, dancers, and other performing artists to reach more people.
Additionally, the campaign engaged influencers through testimonials and reward programs to promote community dialogue. This helped build trust in the COVID-19 vaccine, eliminating vaccine hesitancy and increasing trust.
“As part of my daily transport business, I come into contact with a large number of people. Recognizing the potential risk of spreading the virus, I have taken proactive measures to protect myself and my community by getting vaccinated. This, in turn, will help prevent further economic hardship and ensure the safety of those around me. I urge others to do the same”””,” – Bike taximan in Lualaba, DR Congo.
The multi-pronged approach to RCCE proved highly effective, mobilizing the community and engaging various stakeholders to increase vaccine trust and uptake. The Africa CDC provided daily supportive supervision to field teams deployed in over 43 health zones, and each team member ensured quality reporting of data that adhered to data quality standards.
During the vaccination campaign, the Africa CDC pharmacovigilance team ensured the efficient identification, monitoring and reporting of any adverse events following immunization(AEFI) that may occur during or after vaccination. In collaboration with EPI, 65 AEFI focal points were identified and actively followed up on individuals who received vaccination in the two provinces for 28 days after vaccination. These focal points were pivotal in promoting the accuracy and promptness of adverse event reporting, essential to maintaining public safety and confidence in the vaccination program.
Overall, the campaign presented an opportunity to adopt learning, best practices, and experiences to upscale and replicate in other Member States with low vaccination rates and coverage. This was the second mass vaccination campaign supported by Africa CDC in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation through the Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative in the provinces of Lualaba and Kinshasa in DRC.