Regina Nthenya is sister of St Joseph Mombasa. She’s the Manager of the Association of Sisterhoods in Kenya (AOSK) Health Networks Project that has been implementing the COVID-19 Prevention and Vaccine Awareness Campaign funded by the Hilton Foundation. In this article, Sister Regina shares more about this Campaign and how it has been complementing the Government of Kenya’s COVID-19 response efforts.

  1. Give us a brief about the project

This COVID-19 Prevention and Vaccine Awareness Campaign by the AOSK is an extension of a previous project we had on COVID-19 response, where we worked with 34 health facilities. In this project, 80 facilities that are run by the Catholic sisters under AOSK are involved. The facilities are spread across various counties and Catholic dioceses in Kenya. The project is funded by the Hilton Foundation to support us to respond to COVID-19 by encouraging communities to get vaccinated and embrace other preventive measures.

 2.How is the project being implemented?

The main goal of this project is to empower the Catholic sisters to be champions towards ensuring a COVID-19 free nation, where holistic health can be achieved. One of our objectives is to train the health care providers on COVID-19, while putting into consideration that Coronavirus is mutating and spreading very fast. We are empowering the sisters with knowledge to ensure they can diagnose, manage and even refer cases, and in cases they are the ones to manage the cases, they can do so with confidence. Our other objective is to ensure that the sister-run facilities can be able to test COVID-19 without fear and thus, avail this service to the people at the remotest areas. We are also advocating  for COVID-19 vaccines uptake in the country, because this is one of the ways we will protect others and ourselves as generally, vaccines have helped this country to overcome many communicable diseases including measles, polio, yellow fever, etc. Through this project, the sisters are championing to ensure that our populations are protected, the country is free from COVID-19 and that we can go back to our normal lives and enjoy what God gave us.

 3.You are training lab technicians on Antigen Rapid Diagnostic Testing for COVID-19. Why is this important?

Antigen Rapid Diagnostic Testing (RDT) is the cheapest testing for COVID-19 and easiest to be done at the local level, especially at the grassroots where people cannot access the PCR test. We are training lab technicians on Antigen RDT to build their understanding on the testing] itself, sample collection and interpretation of results. Above all, we want them to gain confidence in testing everyone, even those that are already infected with COVID-19. We believe after undertaking the training, they will encourage others to test for COVID-19 to be sure of their status, which would further encourage them to get the vaccine comfortably. Besides Antigen RDT training, we have also held capacity-building workshops on COVID-19 prevention, control and home based care, COVID-19 vaccines and administration to empower health care workers in the sister-run facilities with COVID-19 information.

 4.What can you say are some of the project successes?

We have experienced many successes since we started implementing the COVID-19 project. Firstly, we have seen the confidence among the health care workers rise. Before the project, many used to see someone with symptoms and would refer them straight away. Right now, they are saying, why can’t I save one? Secondly, the Community Health Workers (CHWs) who we have trained are now more confident in their community outreach activities. One example is a CHW who encountered a client who had tested positive for COVID-19 and because she had no symptoms that could have warranted her admission, she was put on homecare, but the relatives neglected the client, and however much the CHW tried, the family could not accept her. The CHW opted to take her to her own home, where she took care of her until she tested negative then returned her back to her family. That was a kind selfless life, selfless person and selfless gift to the community. We are happy that the trainings are bearing fruit.

5.What message do you have for health care workers and anyone who is not vaccinated against COVID-19?

I am encouraging everyone, especially the health care workers to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Kindly don’t risk your life. We do not know what variant is coming next, we are not praying for it. Kindly get vaccinated for your own safety, family and for the people you care for. By taking the vaccine, you are showing love and kindness to the people of God. You are telling the people that God gave us a life and a responsibility to take care of our lives. I know there are a lot of myths and stories about COVID-19, but we need to understand that this is not the first time that SARS has hit the world. The 2002 outbreak was managed and controlled. The fact that COVID-19 is still with us since the first case was reported in China in December 2019 means we are not sure of what comes tomorrow. Let us protect ourselves and let God take care of the rest. Personally, I have taken the two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and I can assure you I did not experience any recognisable side effect that I can say was alarming. I got just mild headache, a mild muscle pain for a day, body weakness for a day, and I was well after taking paracetemol. 

 6.Your parting shot?

COVID-19 is real. COVID-19 is claiming lives especially now in the communities at the grassroots. Let us encourage our people to test so that they can be sure and can protect their loved ones. Let us also encourage them to get vaccinated for their own benefit and for those they care for.