South African pensioners fear vaccination

So far, 3.7% of South Africa's roughly 58 million people have received at least one vaccine dose.

23 June 2021 | Economics

We're using complicated numbers, maps and information, it's almost like certain sections of society are the illiterate. Thami Nkosi, Manager: Right2Know

KIM HARRISBERG



When Esther Dhlamini went to collect her pension in Johannesburg's Soweto township, she was surprised to find a local bishop on hand to calm her fears about Covid-19 vaccination and register her for the jab on his mobile phone.

Community “foot soldiers” like the bishop are among numerous initiatives being scrambled across South Africa to tackle a digital divide that threatens to hit vaccine take-up among people without internet access including many pensioners.

“I was afraid to get vaccinated and didn't know how to,” said Dhlamini, 71, outside the Boxer supermarket where she goes each month to pick up her R1 900 pension grant.

Tens of thousands of pensioners are being targeted by partnerships between authorities, charities and churches to ensure it is not only the rich or digitally connected who are immunised against Covid-19 in Africa's worst-hit country.

As daily Covid-19 cases rise, progress on the national inoculation drive has been slow, and campaigners fear people living in rural areas, or those without an internet connection or private medical aid may be left behind altogether.

So far, 3.7% of South Africa's roughly 58 million people have received at least one vaccine dose, according to a Reuters tally, with only healthcare workers and the over-60s currently eligible.



Information

“We're having very elitist conversations around Covid-19,” said Thami Nkosi, interim programmes manager at local charity Right2Know, which works to improve access to public information campaigns.

“We're using complicated numbers, maps and information, it's almost like certain sections of society are the illiterate, the elderly, those without tech access are being forgotten,” Nkosi added.

Almost all of the 38 million South Africans or nearly two-thirds of the population who have internet access use their mobile phones to get online, according to online data portal Statista.

But data is expensive in South Africa, with broadband research company Cable.co.uk ranking the country in the upper half of global prices.

Several health ministry vaccination initiatives have sought to take advantage of the country's relatively high rates of connectivity and mobile phone usage while saving costs for users.

It has launched a toll-free hotline and free quick code, or unstructured supplementary service data (USSD), to help register those without data or internet for vaccination.



Partnerships

But their partnership with the South African Council of Churches (SACC), a forum uniting church members and organisations and branches of Boxer supermarkets across the country has so far reached at least 120 000 people.

Volunteers approach pensioners as they wait in line, speak to them about coronavirus vaccine myths and misinformation, and if they agree they register them on their phones for a vaccination appointment.

“By initiating this campaign, we had only one objective in mind: to ultimately assist the government's efforts to vaccinate as many of our citizens as quickly as possible,” said Ian Bamber, a Boxer spokesperson.

Bishop Shadrack Moloi, president of the Council of African Independent Churches, a SACC member, said churches can be “an amazing resource” in the vaccination drive.

“It's important for churches to get involved because we have a close connection to the community,” Moloi said.

Other projects have included distributing 200 000 flyers with vaccine information across the country and social media campaigns encouraging younger South Africans to help register their grandparents.

– Nampa/Reuters

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