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Botswana completes WHO Intra vaccine action review

Malebogo kebabonye

After bearing heavy criticism for an ill-advised COVID-19 vaccine rollout and COVID-19 response, Botswana seems to have bounced back in the game, according to a newly released report from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

A report released on 19th August 2021 from WHO reads: “with WHO support, Botswana is one of four African countries that have completed an intra action review of their early COVID-19 vaccine rollout to help shape the next phase.”

The report quotes the Director of Health Services at Botswana’s Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr. Malebogo Kebabonye saying: “The aim was to spot challenges and best practices, so we can keep customizing our rollout. It helped us take quick corrective measures and improve our services.”

In recent days the country has been battling negative publicity following incidences that the country was undergoing an unprecedented crisis of failure to plan. According to the report, the country conducted surveys to gauge public perceptions around vaccinations and set up a national ‘ArmReady’ information campaign to prepare the public.

“Our national deployment plan was sanctioned at the level of the Cabinet Office. The surveys showed 76% acceptance of the vaccination among the public. Through the ‘ArmReady’ campaign, we also sought to pre-empt small pockets of resistance,” says Dr. Kebabonye.

“Our first phase, aiming to reach 264 000, is about protecting the health system. The second is to ensure continued economic activity. The final phase will target 18-29-year-olds,” she said.  “Multi-sectoral involvement and coordination from the Presidential Task Force and the Ministry of Health were key. We appointed liaison offices at the national and sub-national levels and used community centres as vaccination sites. This helped communities to take ownership,” Dr. Kebabonye explains.

Kebabonye revealed that they piloted their rollout at several sites first and then grew them out based on their capacity. Given the supply issues, this snowballing approach has been convenient, she added.
Covering all bases…

According to the report, Botswana planned for a range of scenarios and challenges before the rollout began, including uncertainty around the supply of vaccines.  WHO applauded Botswana: “We’re urging African countries to plan for multiple scenarios, just like Botswana did,” says Chanda Chikwanda, who leads WHO Africa’s Vaccines Learning Agenda, which helps share lessons between African countries to strengthen the rollout of vaccines.

“We need to be flexible, depending on how the vaccine responses are going and on whether vaccines arrive on time. There are so many possible scenarios, so flexibility is imperative.”
The statement says that suitable financing, including resource mobilization and constant monitoring and evaluation tools based on sound data collection, strengthened Botswana’s early rollout.

“Countries that emphasize resource mobilization have shown themselves to be best placed to do well. Eswatini secured enough funds to vaccinate its entire population, and Rwanda, Angola, and Ghana all invested in cold chain capacities early,” says Chikwanda.  “We must also get to the hard-to-reach groups, including mobile populations and people living in remote areas. Lesotho used the flying doctors to reach remote communities,” she added.

Public and Health workers’ response

On the challenges faced, Dr. Kebabonye revealed to WHO that “the squeeze on supplies of vaccines has also served to push up public distrust in Botswana’s vaccine rollout.” According to Ministry, “a level of vaccine hesitancy was also found among some younger health workers, which was compounded by the spread of misinformation on and offline.”

Like many countries, Botswana has faced challenges in ensuring enough vaccinators, nurses and health professionals, and support staff is on hand. Equipment shortages and low internet bandwidth in some areas have hampered the use of the electronic data systems that track the administration of vaccines and adverse effects.

“We’ve expanded the knowledge we share with our healthcare workers and communities around [any potential] adverse effects, including on assessing and managing side effects,” says Dr. Kebabonye. When asked for advice for other African countries, Dr. Kebabonye cites an incremental and agile approach, with a strong emphasis on consistent testing and learning.

“These reviews, like the one we ran in April with WHO, need to be continuous processes that all countries do to keep on improving,” said Dr. Kebabonye. Nine more African countries recently expressed interest in conducting similar reviews, WHO said.

“We’re learning as we go to some extent with this new virus and unprecedented vaccination drive,” said Dr. Phionah Atuhebwe, New Vaccines Introduction Officer with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Africa Regional Office. “It is crucial that we keep a close, sharp eye on progress and that we share lessons between countries. This way, we all improve our COVID-19 vaccine rollout together.”

Meanwhile, the report further said that Africa’s largest-ever vaccination drive is well underway.52 African countries are rolling out COVID-19 vaccines, and over 73 million doses have been administered on the continent.

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Mental health concern amid COVID-19 pandemic 

24th September 2021
Mental Health

With the advent of COVID-19, mental health and psychosocial has become a major concern around the world. There is   significant increase in the rates of stress, anxiety and depression globally.

In creating awareness and support on mental health and psychosocial support, the Ministry of Local Government & Rural Development, through the Department of Social Protection (DSP) hosted a virtual regional mental health and Psychosocial Support Forum (MHPSS).

The MHPSS Forum brings together stakeholders from different sectors providing Mental Health and Psychosocial Support services particularly to children, youth, families and the workforce, as well as Academia, International Cooperating Partners, Community Implementing Partners and the media.

It aims to facilitate learning, information exchange and advocacy to promote mainstreaming of Mental Health and Psycho-Social Support (PSS) into policies, programmes, services and funding priorities for children and youth in Botswana.

The event is a partnership between The Ministry of Local Government & Rural Development, through the Department of Social Protection (DSP), and the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI), with Project Concern International Botswana (PCI) and Marang Child Care Network Trust (MCCNT).

The event is held every two years, and Botswana started hosting the Forum in 2014. The theme for this year is ‘Innovate, Integrate, Thrive,’ which prompts us to find new ways to survive the COVID-19 pandemic which we can mainstream into our daily activities.

The Northern Regional Forum in Mahalapye was held on 17-19 August 2021 while the Southern Regional Forum  in  Ghanzi, was  from 21-23 September 2021. Findings from both regions will be presented at the National Forum to be held in Kasane on 12-14 October 2021. The event is held in collaboration with local authorities in each region.

The event is structured in this manner: The first day is a Special Session for Children, where children in the region will talk about the challenges they face that affect their mental health, how they cope and what they think can be done to support them.

The second day is the official opening where the lead ministry gives a keynote address, and presentations from service providers in the region. The third and last day is abstract presentations from different speakers on thematic areas under the theme.

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GMES & Africa Southern Africa to hold a Regional Stakeholder Workshop on Earth Observation Technologies

24th September 2021
GMESAfrica

The Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) in collaboration with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) will hold a Hybrid GMES and Africa Regional workshop from 27 – 29 September 2021, at Safari Hotel in Windhoek, Namibia.

The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security and Africa (GMES & Africa) Initiative is a programme formed out of mutual cooperation between Africa and Europe with a focus on Earth Observation (EO) systems.

It was formed to respond to the global need to manage the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security by providing information to policymakers, scientists, private sector and the public. GMES and Africa aims to promote development of local capacities, institutional, human and technical resources for access to and exploitation of Earth Observation (EO) based services on an operational basis for sustainable development in Africa.

In its first phase, GMES has funded 13 consortiums in Africa. In Southern African, SASSCAL-led consortia is implementing the Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Service for Transboundary Basins in Southern Africa (WeMAST) Project while CSIR is leading the Marine and Coastal Operations for Southern Africa (MARCO[1]South). SASSCAL Members of the consortium include the University of Botswana, University of Zambia, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, University of the Western Cape and Midlands State University, South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) of Zambia.

CSIR led consortium includes ABALOBI, Benguela Current Convention, Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, National Sea Rescue Institute, University of Dar Es Salaam, University of Eduardo Mondlane and the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association).

The workshop will also provide an opportunity to promote and encourage mutual exchanges in terms of sharing best practices, knowledge and experiences as well as allow for the exchange of information and knowledge on new and innovative Earth Observation technologies developed under the programmes and their alignment with the region’s sustainable development strategies.

The workshop will also reveal trends in the use of earth observation data to monitor and assess wetland conditions, threats to sustainable utilisation of wetland resources as well as updating stakeholders on how climate change variability and drought is continually affecting Sub-Saharan Africa’s surface water resources.

The workshop’s envisaged outcomes will be to ensure shared knowledge and understanding of the new and innovative Earth Observation technologies, and their application to society. Expected to visit is a broader pool of international delegates from the two continents (Europe and Africa) both physically and virtual.

This includes the member countries policy makers, line ministers from the SADC countries, public and private sector stakeholders, implementers, Basin Commissions, researchers, and any other stakeholders whose activities are related to coastal areas, rivers, and their ecosystems.

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Vendors ready for the Tobacco Control Bill

21st September 2021
Vendors

Some vendors have been misled
Vendors thrive on households goods and fresh produce

Despite the previous false allegations that the Tobacco Control Bill will lead to several 20 000 vendors across the country losing their jobs, several local vendors have expressed that they are ready for the bill and because vendors sell mostly household goods

“This is something that we openly accept and receive as street vendors, the problem is some of our counterparts were misled and made to believe that we will not be allowed to sell cigarettes on our stalls.

Some of us got to understand that the bill states that we have to be licensed to sell cigarettes, we are not supposed to sell them to children under the age of 18 years of age and eliminating the selling of single sticks. We understand that this agenda is meant to develop a healthy nation but not take us down,” said Mbimbi Tau a vendor who operates from Mogoditshane.

The Tobacco Control Bill has been passed in several countries and street vendors are operating properly without any challenges faced. Tau further mentioned that there is no way that the Tobacco Control Bill will affect their business operations, all they have to do as vendors are to get the required documentation and do what the bill requires.

Another vendor Busani Selalame who operates from Gaborone Bonnington North was not shy to express his support towards the Tobacco Control Bill, “the problem is that some people within our sector have been misled and now they think that the bill is meant to take our operations down and completely stop selling cigarettes.

I support the fact that we are not supposed to sell cigarettes to children who are under the age of 18 years of age this has always been wrong, as parents we should be cautious of such and ensure that our children are disassociated with cigarettes,” said Selalame.

The Tobacco Control Bill prohibits advertising, promotion and sponsorship by the tobacco industry to prevent messages, cues, and other inducements to begin using tobacco, especially among the youth, to reassure users to continue their use, or that otherwise undermine quitting.

Renowned economist Bakang Ntshingane is of the view that since vendors sell household goods and fresh produce they are likely to keep on making profits despite what the Tobacco Control Bill comes with. He further stated that the Tobacco Control Bill will not be of harm on the local economy since the country does not manufacture or produce any tobacco related products.

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