COVID-19 vaccines offer life-saving protection against severe COVID-19 that has resulted in significant morbidity and mortality. After a year of intense advocacy against the unequal global roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, with Africa receiving only 7.8 percent of the nine billion vaccine doses manufactured globally, the stage is set to ramp up vaccine delivery on the continent in 2022. This also means the speed and scale of uptake of vaccinations needs to be ramped up to avoid vaccine wastage, bring the pandemic under control and speed economic recovery on the continent. With African youths constituting over 65% of the continent’s population, their mobilization and meaningful engagement has the potential to be game-changing in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic on the continent.
In line with the World Health Organization target to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population by end of June 2022, the African Union (AU) through the Africa CDC has taken unprecedented steps to support the AU Member States’ COVID-19 vaccination efforts. As of 05th July 2022, over 849 million vaccines have been supplied, of which about 614 million have been administered to the African population. This translates to approximately 72% of the supplied vaccines having been administered, with 22.1% of the total African population (2022 estimates) partially vaccinated and only 19.2% fully vaccinated.
During the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government (HoSG) Summit, February 2022, the AU COVID-19 Champion, H.E. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, presented a comprehensive report, which was endorsed, on the pandemic situation in Africa and made key recommendations which were endorsed by the HoSG. The HoSG committed to exercise leadership to advance the vaccination agenda and urge the Africa CDC to ensure greater coordination and partnerships to support Member States to achieve the goal of vaccinating at least 70% of the continent’s population by end of June 2022.
Motivated by H.E. President Cyril Ramaphosa, who called for innovative ways to scale up vaccinations across the continent, an African Union public-private-youth initiative co-led by Africa CDC and the Women, Gender and Youth Directorate through the Youth Division has been conceptualized under the name “AU COVID-19 Vaccination Bingwa Initiative” as part of the Africa CDC’s wide Programme of Saving Lives and Livelihoods. The initiative seeks to establish a network of COVID-19 vaccination youth champions across the continent to accelerate the uptake of COVID-19 vaccination in Africa.
Specifically, the initiative seeks to:
Create a network of Bingwas, with a target of at least one Bingwa per district and each Bingwa responsible for mobilizing at least people to be vaccinated.
Make a direct attributable contribution to vaccinating at least 100 million Africans including 30 million youth, and
Make an indirect contribution to bridging the 727 million vaccination gap in Africa by increasing demand for the COVID-19 vaccinations.
As champions for COVID-19 vaccinations, Bingwas will undertake four main tasks:
1. Be an active vaccine advocate. As influencers and youth voices on COVID-19 vaccination, Bingwas will be expected to be vaccinated to demonstrate their own conviction on the value of vaccinations, and to go public on their vaccination status, including on social media, to demonstrate this value to their peers and influence them to be vaccinated.
2. Coordinate Information Education Communication materials. Bingwas may use diverse forms of online and offline platforms including social media, door to door education, community radio, TV shows, animations, comic books, dramas, skits, music challenges, video messaging, to communicate context specific messages, address misinformation, and promote vaccination awareness and uptake. They may work with micro-influencers, celebrities, and youth-led organizations such as Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, and National Youth Councils (NYCs) to increase awareness and drive demand for community-based COVID-19 vaccinations.
3. Disseminate COVID-19 Information through different channels. Bingwas will mobilize and collaborate with local actors to support vaccination sessions in schools, workplaces, churches, mosques, markets, and other relevant community platforms. Their role will be in mobilizing their communities and collaborating with key stakeholders to mobilize, schedule, undertake and report on vaccination sessions. In exceptional cases, youth vaccinators, already employed and accredited by the Ministries of Health, may be mobilized to undertake vaccination exercises.
4. Be part of the continental Bingwas network. Bingwas will be part of and contribute to a virtual community and network of Bingwas that will offer a platform for sharing achievements, innovations, experiences and lessons learned. The country level Bingwas will meet monthly and the continental network/community will meet quarterly.
Since Africa recorded its first case of COVID-19 on 14 February 2020, the outbreak has increased its footprint in Africa. As of July 05th 2022, COVID-19 is present in all the 55 AU Member States with over 11.8 million infections and more than 254 thousand deaths reported. The fight against COVID-19 is a race against the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2, hence, implementing a combination of effective and robust COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, coupled with good public health measures are the only available tools to get Africa out of the pandemic. The vaccines that are currently available provide good protection against a severe course of the disease and evidently reduces hospitalization. However, the vaccination coverage on the continent remains low, at about 19.1% (273 million) of the total population (May 2022), compared to a target of 70% (900 million) by the end of June 2022.
– Design and launch of the initiative: Africa CDC and the Youth Division of AUC conceived and co-designed the initiative. They consulted the African youth and key partners in the process.
– Communication and advocacy: An integrated and multi-media communication and advocacy strategy and campaign will be rolled out to support the initiative.
– Mobilization of Bingwas: This will involve a call for Bingwas followed by shortlisting, screening and deployment of Bingwas.
– Orientation of Bingwas: The selected Bingwas will be oriented/trained on their roles and responsibilities, and supported to develop work plans.
– Activation of Bingwas: Bingwas will be provided with seed grants (to amplify the initiative with IEC materails) and reporting schedules and templates for their activities.
– Conversations among Bingwas: The AUC will establish a platform and calendar for convening and conversation among the network of Bingwas to share experiences and facilitate learning. – Communication and advocacy: an integrated and multi-media communication and advocacy strategy and campaign will be rolled out to support the initiative. The campaign will brand the initiative and inspire youth to become Bingwas. It will use different platforms including Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube and Clubhouse, to reach and engage young
people in diverse contexts with key messages and hashtags. In addition, a Handbook for Key Messages on COVID-19 will be developed in all the AU Languages to be shared with Bingwas to ensure uniformity of messages and effective communications in all Member States.