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COVID-19: Researchers want vaccine uptake in Tanzania improved

Oct. 17, 2022
COVID-19: Researchers want vaccine uptake in Tanzania improved
GECO Project Principal Investigator, Dr. Sally Mtenga, stresses a point when presenting recommendations from their recently study on COVID-19. PHOTO | IFAKARA/KMC

Ifakara Health Institute researchers have shared recommendations to improve the COVID-19 vaccine uptake in Tanzania. These recommendations were shared during a dissemination forum where the researchers presented the findings of a new study that explored the factors influencing the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine among patients with type 2 diabetes (T2D).

The study, which was simply known as the “GECO Project” (Global Effort on COVID-19), explored the experiences of people with T2D on access to health care and social-economic services before and during the COVID-19 pandemic in rural and urban Tanzania and Kenya.

Ifakara researchers Dr. Sally Mtenga, Dr Peter Binyaruka, and Irene Mashashi presented the study findings to over 20 representatives from the Ministry of Health, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) and regional administration and local government authorities (PORALG).

Also in attendance were the Regional Medical Officers (RMOs) and healthcare providers (doctors and nurses) from selected regional referral hospitals located in Morogoro and Dar es Salaam, where the study was implemented.

While the study findings will provide evidence urgently needed to inform national, regional, and district micro-planning and health systems’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ifakara researchers have recommended policymakers “to set strategies to improve health education on the role of COVID-19 vaccine for NCD patients and have targeted COVID-19 vaccination campaigns.”

The researchers also identified the status and factors influencing the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine among T2D patients in Kenya and Tanzania. To reflect these findings, during his presentation, Dr Binyaruka said: “Our findings show a lower vaccine uptake in Tanzania (26%) than in Kenya (75%) with significant factors such as education level, insurance status, patient age (in Kenya), and the number of comorbidities (in Tanzania) influencing the vaccination uptake.”

Additionally, the researchers also shared the facilitators and barriers to the COVID-19 vaccine uptake as observed among the 1,000 patients with type 2 diabetes surveyed in both countries. The barriers ranged from myths and misconceptions to fear and concerns about the side effects while the facilitators included confidence held from childhood vaccines, the need for protection, and influence from leaders among other reasons.

Earlier this year in July, Dr Sally presented findings of the GECO Project at the 10th Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) scientific conference which was held the Muhimbili campus in Upanga, Dar es Salaam. Her presentation reflected the conference theme which was titled: “The Role of the Health Systems Research in Promoting and Sustaining Universal Health Coverage; Leveraging Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

During the forum, Dr Sally stressed the importance of sharing research findings with stakeholders saying, “It is our responsibility to share study findings with stakeholders as it opens discussions about the next steps to be taken within our communities.”

The GECO project advisory members, Prof. Kaushi Ramaiya from Hindu Mandal Hospital and Dr Grace Maghembe, the Deputy Permanent Secretary of Health from PORALG also participated in the forum. They both congratulated the Ifakara researchers for their incredible work and effort they put to implement the study “especially during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak.”

Dr Sally and colleagues are keen to host other similar forums with more stakeholders in the near future before the project ends in March 2023. The aim of these forums is to build close partnerships with stakeholders and push for their commitment to ensure the implementation of recommended interventions to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake in Tanzania especially among vulnerable groups such as people with type two diabetes and other chronic diseases.