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UP leads vaccination initiative for undocumented communities in Gauteng

Malusi informal settlement vaccination day

Malusi informal settlement vaccination day

Published Dec 21, 2021


CAPE TOWN - The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Community Oriented Primary Care (COPC) Research Unit is leading the vaccination of undocumented communities against Covid-19 in Gauteng.

This is in collaboration with partners from the international community, local NGOs and religious community leaders, and the departments of health and local government.

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Under the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)/UP Project, vaccination has been open since October at clinics in Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg and Tshwane, while there are also pop-up vaccination sites in informal settlements and in inner-cities for homeless people in these municipalities.

So far, more than 4 000 people have been vaccinated in Gauteng through the programme.

There are plans to roll out this programme to other provinces, in collaboration with several partners, to provide Covid-19 vaccinations to communities facing challenges with accessing such services.

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The COPC Research Unit is based in the Department of Family Medicine at UP’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

Professor Debashis Basu, head of the Department of Public Health Medicine said: “Undocumented people include South Africans who have lost their documents, people from surrounding countries with expired documents or without documents. Many of the people are homeless, living on the streets or in informal settlements.”

There are also many people who are employed, living in formal housing, who do not have identity documents.

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UP’s COPC approach entails working with people in geographic areas where informal settlements have been mapped in detail and where access to fixed vaccination sites is limited, identifying their needs, and working with partners to meet those needs.

“We go to the communities where easy access can be provided, rather than asking them to come to formal facilities. As part of our comprehensive and ongoing care, we issue people with a patient-retained booklet called ‘Road to Linked Care’. The book acts as their identity in terms of their medical and vaccination records. We seize the opportunity to create awareness of other high-burden diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV, and to identify social needs that might be addressed at the primary healthcare level,” Basu said.

However, the government’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out programme is designed to register people with their unique identification information. This is necessary to prevent duplication and to be able to track people.

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“Unfortunately, this excludes a large number of people without the necessary documents. And they are often at great risk and in need of vaccination and healthcare,” said Basu.

He said that undocumented people were reluctant to access health services, including vaccination.

“There is a long culture of stigma and exclusion. They do not trust the system and are afraid that they will be reported to the police, then apprehended and deported,” Basu said.

The National Department of Health has recognised this challenge and is partnering with UP in rolling out the vaccination programme.

“We are well-placed to take up the responsibility to assist in this vaccination programme,” said Basu.

The UP COPC Research Unit offers a health check with the vaccination as these communities are often neglected, resulting in undetected chronic conditions among individuals.

“When we find such conditions, we record that on the ‘Road to Linked Care’ booklet and encourage them to seek help in a clinic of their choice,” Basu said.

Cape Times

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