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Health workers go to extremes to keep the world safe from Covid

Maria Bervanakis, October 24, 2021 2:30PM Kids News

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Porters carry Covid-19 vaccines in cold storage boxes on their back to health facilities in a remote district of Nepal. Picture: UNICEF media_cameraPorters carry Covid-19 vaccines in cold storage boxes on their back to health facilities in a remote district of Nepal. Picture: UNICEF

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Getting a Covid-19 jab is pretty easy in Australia. You make a booking, turn up at a vaccination centre or medical clinic and roll up your sleeve.

But what happens when you live in one of the most remote locations in the world?

Health workers are going to extraordinary lengths to get vaccines to communities in hard-to-reach places, including trekking over mountains and swimming through streams.

The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, the charity that has vaccinated half the world’s children for routine immunisations, now has the job of helping to immunise the world against the deadly virus on behalf of the international effort known as COVAX.

This is because UNICEF is the largest single vaccine buyer in the world by working with manufacturers and has the cold chain* storage and logistics* already established to deliver two billion Covid vaccines this year to more than 100 countries.

media_cameraNurse Mutesi Joy must take a 30-minute boat ride across Lake Victoria in Uganda, Africa, to get Covid-19 vaccines to a health centre on remote Namatale Island. Picture: UNICEF

Dr Shaikh Kabir, UNICEF’s immunisation specialist in Papua New Guinea, is involved in the distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the southwestern Pacific nation where there is just one doctor per 10,000 people, compared to 36 doctors per 10,000 people in Australia.

UNICEF workers there have not only had to tackle PNG’s tribal society* with tact* but also find ways to navigate the natural habitat, including the harsh routes up to the PNG Highland provinces.

In some cases vaccines are being flown into remote areas, but sometimes UNICEF workers have no choice but to travel on foot and even swim through streams while carrying the vaccine in cold storage boxes on their back.

“And then there are some health facilities that are disconnected by river or sea, so big cooler boxes are used and vaccines are put in those to keep them cool for up to seven days, and those boxes are used to ship them to those remote facilities,” Dr Kabir said.

Community leaders have fortunately been open to working with health facilities to increase take up of the Covid-19 vaccine.

“We haven’t been seeing any resistance from any community groups or any tribal groups against the vaccination though there are hesitancies, misconceptions and rumours, but resistance, no,” Dr Kabir said.

media_cameraPorters collect a cold box containing vaccines that were delivered by boat in Bangladesh in 2019. Picture: UNICEF
media_cameraPorters and a local health official carry UNICEF-provided measles, rubella and polio vaccines over a bridge in the Gorkha district of Nepal after it was hit by an earthquake in 2015. Picture: UNICEF

UNICEF Australia director of international programs Felicity Butler-Wever said Australia had committed $130 million to COVAX so far and an undisclosed amount of Covid vaccines to countries in need.

But she said Australia and other wealthy nations needed to give more if UNICEF was to “deliver on this very aspirational* but critical goal of the two billion doses.”

“Wealthier nations sometimes have much more availability because they have bilateral* purchasing agreements,” Ms Butler-Wever said.

“UNICEF is advocating* for wealthier nations to be donating some of the doses they have available to reach countries where we are having supply issues.”

media_cameraMeasles vaccines are delivered by a female health worker on motorbike to a hard-to-reach village in India in 2017. Picture: UNICEF

The biggest challenge for UNICEF is in conflict zones like Yemen, Syria and Myanmar.

“They are very complex because you don’t in some countries have a functioning government and therefore health system through which to deliver, you rely on the humanitarian* system to get vaccines out,” she said.

“We would have problems just getting into some of those affected regions, let alone delivering Covid vaccines and let alone being able to create awareness among the population on why they should get the vaccine.”

media_cameraMamadou Kassé, a vaccinator at the Sofara community health centre, travels by donkey cart with vaccines to reach children in the remote Kankelena village in Mali, Africa, in 2019. Vaccinators like Mamadou travel by donkey cart for up to 8 hours to reach the families most in need. Picture: UNICEF

Ms Butler-Wever said UNICEF was working with local health authorities in these areas to help them deliver vaccines and get the supplies they needed.

“UNICEF negotiates for better deals with pharmaceutical* companies and provides training and guidance to safely administer vaccinations and the cold chain to map out how the vaccines will arrive in countries and reach remote areas,” she said.

UNICEF Australia chief executive Tony Stuart said the organisation and its partners were now leading the largest vaccine procurement* and supply operation in history.

“UNICEF is working around the clock to distribute two billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine  to protect healthcare workers, families and, in turn, children everywhere,” he said.

“From our supply division in Copenhagen to the most remote village, our team does whatever it takes to deliver vaccines, as no one is safe from Covid-19 until we are all safe.”

GLOSSARY

  • cold chain: the system of transporting or storing vaccines at the correct cold temperature
  • logistics: the management of the flow of goods from their origin to their destination
  • tribal society: a society made up of people living in different tribes
  • tact: skill and sensitivity
  • aspirational: having or setting high hopes of success
  • bilateral: involving both sides
  • advocating: arguing for or supporting
  • humanitarian: to do focusing on the welfare of people and improving their lives
  • pharmaceutical: to do with medicines, their preparation, use and sale
  • procurement: the action of obtaining something

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is the international effort to immunise the world against Covid-19 known as?
  2. Why was UNICEF chosen to deliver vaccines as part of this effort?
  3. How many doctors per 10,000 people does Papua New Guinea have?
  4. How many doctors per 10,000 people does Australia have?
  5. Who is UNICEF Australia’s director of international programs?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Vaccination Difficulties and Solutions
Create a table with two columns. Label the first column “Difficulties” and the second column “Solutions”.

Based on information from this news story as well as any existing knowledge you have, list all of the difficulties that exist with regards to vaccinating people for Covid-19 alongside possible solutions to these issues.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Ethical Understanding

2. Extension
Consider this quote from the news story: “Australia and other wealthy nations needed to give more if UNICEF was to ‘deliver on this very aspirational but critical goal of the two billion doses’.”

Do you think Australia should give more than we have already committed? Why or why not? Explain your reasoning.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Ethical Understanding

VCOP ACTIVITY
1. Wow Word Recycle
There are plenty of wow words (ambitious pieces of vocabulary) being used in the article. Some are in the glossary, but there might be extra ones from the article that you think are exceptional as well.

Identify all the words in the article that you think are not common words and particularly good choices for the writer to have chosen.

Select three words you have highlighted to recycle into your own sentences.

If any of the words you identified are not in the glossary, write up your own glossary for them.

2. Extension
Find a bland sentence from the article to up-level. Can you add more detail and description? Can you replace any base words with more specific synonyms?

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