Rural residents’ Covid-19 vaccination struggles

Elderly residents in particular face a number of hurdles, from struggling with technology and internet access to the cost of travelling to a vaccination centre.

With the third wave of Covid-19 infections slowly winding down in Gauteng, many elderly residents of the Eastern Cape are worried that their province could be next in line for a surge in infections. Most of them fear the Delta variant of the coronavirus, saying “it kills fast”. 

Residents over the age of 60 in Zixinene village in kwaMathole, Middledrift, are particularly concerned about the third wave. Retired teacher Gosa Salusalu, 61, said, “We have seen people die in large numbers in 2020 and there is no way to ignore the instructions. Whether you have cultural or religious beliefs, it is wise to be vaccinated. In fact, I even decided to take my 94-year-old mother to get the vaccine at Middledrift Health Centre. The process was smooth. I could not leave her behind, considering that she is ageing.”

23 June 2021: Gosa Salusalu with his dogs in a neighbour’s yard. He says vaccination is necessary, particularly for those who are old or vulnerable.

Many people in rural villages have struggled to register on the government’s digital portal, the Electronic Vaccination Data System. Former acting minister of health Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane urged the public a few weeks ago to help senior citizens register online. 

“I remember in the 1940s, we heard about destructive illnesses. But viruses such as HIV came to us as a shock,” said Lady Girl Nomawethu Peter, 75. “Now it is the corona which scares me every day. I got vaccinated on 17 June for the first dose and was asked to return on 29 July. Although I was worried, I slept well on the first day. This vaccine is a lifesaver.

“A young man from our community came to take our details the other week. I gave him the information he wanted because I don’t know how to operate my phone. The only thing I know is to make or receive a call. Some of us are uneducated.”

23 June 2021: Asanda Mzongwana explains the vaccine registration process to Lady Girl Nomawethu Peter while her daughter Noludwe sits at the front door.

Dodgy internet

Asanda Mzongwana, 38, attended a workshop in East London to help him educate and raise awareness about the vaccine in his community. During the second phase of the vaccination rollout, he got a temporary job through the Solidarity Fund that required him to visit the homes of people over the age of 60 and register them.

Mzongwana used a smartphone to register 345 people in 13 villages during those three weeks. “Since 1 June, the elderly could not receive the SMSes. We struggle with the network on a daily basis at kwaMathole and the surrounding areas. Those who use Vodacom and Telkom, for instance, received the messages. But MTN users got stuck,” he said.

Ngqika-Mbo Traditional Council leader Nkosikazi Nosizwe Mhlambiso of the Ngqikambo said, “Though our people are coming from poor families and often have water challenges, we always encourage them to continue washing their hands, keep social distance and wear masks. 

“I’m happy that the message about the vaccine is taken seriously because this virus caused tensions in many households. In fact, the pandemic changed our way of life, how we bury our loved ones, celebrate weddings and conduct cultural events. Most of the people we lead felt that being instructed to limit the numbers at funerals is anti-African, but current circumstances dictate that we should oblige. I’m hopeful that things will get better soon.” 

23 June 2021: Nkosikazi Nosizwe Mhlambiso is thankful for the vaccine. ‘I think the vaccination rollout programme will make a difference in people’s lives generally. Some were unhappy about certain restrictions imposed by our government on them.’

A nurse at a vaccination centre attached to the Zithulele hospital in Mqanduli said a lot of older people arrived unregistered. “We assisted those who were unregistered or could not receive SMSes. Others just walked in. We took their information and vaccinated them.”

Nohotile Xakaza, 62, from Xotyana village said she didn’t understand the process. Instead, she heeded the announcement that anyone unable to register need only bring their identity document and confirm their contact number and physical address to get the jab. “I didn’t register for this thing. I only listened on the radio, watched TV and asked my daughter some things I wasn’t sure about. Remember that some of us come from deep rural areas. I had to pay R60 for transport to come to this centre. This money is too much for me as a pensioner,” said Xakaza. 

Angry residents

At Ngcolosi village in Tsolo, things are different. The residents who live next to St Lucy’s hospital are furious at the provincial government over the Covid-19 quarantine site that is under construction a short distance from their houses. 

Many of them fear that elderly residents and those with chronic illnesses may be easily infected if the project continues. 

Residents protested outside the health facility late last year. 

23 June 2021: Matetlane Busani struggles to walk and is still waiting for the promised visit from a nurse to vaccinate him.

One, Matetlane Busani, 85, from Lujecweni, is still waiting to be vaccinated. “I struggle to walk. The nurses promised to visit us but they have not come to my place yet. I’m still waiting. I registered but I’m not sure if I received the message,” he said.

He added that the government said it would look after the residents. “We are the ones at risk of getting sick from this disease, but the nurses just drive past my place all the time,” said Busani, looking at his phone.

23 June 2021: Buyiswa Joyce Majalamba leaves the Pikoli clinic in Peddie after receiving her second dose of vaccine as others wait their turn. ‘I wanted to protect myself from the virus. I heard that the Delta one is more dangerous than this one.’
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