Friday, September 30, 2022

Women left behind: Gender gap emerges in Africa’s vaccines

SARE GIBEL, Gambia (AP) – Health workers who drove past the village of Lama Mballow holding a megaphone handed out T-shirts that read: “I GOT MY COVID-19 VACCINE!”

By then, the women in Sarah Doom had reached rumors on social media that vaccines could stop the bleeding or cause a miscarriage. The women who took him never got pregnant.

Lama Mballow and her daughter-in-law Fatumata Mballow never made the 5.5 km trip to town for vaccines, but the family kept the free shirt. Its inscriptions are now badly worn, but the determination of the women has not softened. They have a lot in common – responsibilities for food preparation, caring for children and their views on the vaccine.

“I definitely need a lot of children,” said Lama Mballow, 24, who has a 4-year-old son, another child on the way and has no plans to get vaccinated. And 29-year-old Fatumata Mballow struggles to get pregnant for the third time in a village where some women have as many as 10 children, quietly insists: “I do not want to aggravate the situation and destroy my womb.”

When health officials in the Gambia and across Africa urge women to get vaccinated, they have faced reluctance from people of childbearing age. Many women fear that their current or future pregnancy will be at risk, and in Africa, a woman’s marital success often depends on the number of children she is carrying. Other women say they are simply more afraid of the vaccine than the virus: as breadwinners, they cannot miss a day of work if side effects such as fatigue and fever briefly supplant them.

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Their fears are hardly exclusive: rumors are spreading across Africa, where less than 4% of the population is immunized. Although data on the distribution of vaccines by sex are not available globally, experts note that in the poorest countries in Africa, a growing number of women miss vaccines. Officials who already mourn inequality in the distribution of vaccines between rich and poor countries now fear that sharp gender inequality means African women are the world’s least vaccinated population.


This story is part of a year-long series on how the pandemic is affecting women in Africa, especially the least developed countries. The AP Series is funded by the European Journalism Center’s Grant Program for the Advancement of Journalism, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. AP is responsible for all content.


“Unfortunately, we are seeing that while COVID vaccines arrive in Africa after a long delay, women are left behind,” said Dr. Abdahala Ziraba, an epidemiologist at the African Center for Population and Health Research.

Delays in delivering vaccines to poor countries have allowed misinformation to spread, and with female literacy being a problem across Africa, women have long relied on word of mouth for information.

Despite rampant concerns about pregnancy and fertility, there is no evidence that vaccines affect a woman’s chances of getting pregnant. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked tens of thousands of immunized women and found no difference in their pregnancy outcomes. The CDC, the World Health Organization, and other agencies recommend vaccinating pregnant women because of the higher risk of serious illness and death.

In The Gambia, as in many African countries, AstraZeneca was originally the only vaccine available. The publicity of the link between this vaccine and rare blood clots in women during the failed vaccine introduction in Europe threw vaccination efforts back. Many Gambians believed the injection would stop the bleeding entirely due to the poor translation of the news into local languages.

Officials also faced deep mistrust of the government and the belief that Africans were receiving shots that no one else needed. It was rumored that the vaccine was developed for birth control on the continent.

Since then, health officials have made great strides in vaccinating Gambian women; They now represent about 53 percent of those who received injections, a few percentage points more than just a few months ago. But among people of childbearing age, there is a lag, despite how often they are in contact with workers in maternity hospitals.

Across Africa, officials are reporting similar trends. In South Sudan, Gabon and Somalia, less than 30% of those who received at least one dose in the early stages of COVID-19 immunization campaigns were women.

In these countries – as in other parts of the world, especially in poorer countries in the Middle East and Asia – women face other barriers to accessing vaccines. Some need permission from their husbands or lack the technique to make an appointment.

Sarah Hawkes, director of the Center for Gender and Global Health at University College London, said there is some hope that the initial imbalance in COVID-19 immunization rates between men and women will continue to level out in The Gambia and elsewhere as soon as they have. there will be a stable supply of the vaccine. … Most wealthy countries where vaccines were readily available report an almost equal distribution of the number of men and women vaccinated.

But it is especially difficult to promote vaccines in regions without explosive outbreaks of the virus, such as parts of the Gambia and South Sudan.

“The women here are worried that their children will get pneumonia or malaria,” said Nurse Anger Ather, who runs immunization campaigns in South Sudan. “They are not worried about COVID-19.”

The rejection of the coronavirus vaccine is not limited to remote villages. One morning at Bundung Hospital in Serrekunda, on the outskirts of the Gambian capital, CEO Kebba Manneh asked dozens of pregnant women if they had been vaccinated. Only one raised her hand.

A few steps away from them, other women brought their babies and toddlers for routine vaccinations against measles, diphtheria and tetanus.

“You are taking your child for vaccination. What’s so special about it? Manneh asked. The pregnant woman pulled out her phone to show him a video claiming that someone’s body became magnetic after being fired by COVID-19, showing a spoon held to her hand.

In The Gambia, husbands must give permission to the wife for medical procedures. Most women tell healthcare providers that they will not receive the COVID-19 vaccine without their husbands’ consent.

Fatoumata Nyaballi’s work as a security officer puts her at increased risk of contracting the virus. She is seven months pregnant, but her husband refused her vaccination. So Nyaballi gave up the jab, telling the workers, “He is the head of the family, so I have to obey him in everything we do.”

Of the 100 women who went to the hospital that day, only nine agreed to be vaccinated.


Cheng, AP medical writer, reported from London. AP journalist Yves Laurent Goma in Libreville, Gabon; Kara Anna in Nairobi, Kenya; and Mohamed Sheikh Nor from Mogadishu, Somalia, contributed.


See the full series on how the pandemic is affecting women in Africa:

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