Women at the last mile: How investments in gender equality have kept health systems running during COVID-19

Even before COVID-19, investments in health systems—and especially female health workers—were too low. In 2019 the world had a gap of 18 million health workers. Two years and fifteen million deaths later, we have at least 26 million fewer health workers than we need. , This leaves us severely underprepared for future pandemics and other major shocks to the health system, including conflict and climate change. We must invest in health systems that don’t just meet the needs of today, but that are also resilient in the face of future shocks.

Pandemic preparedness requires gender equality: equal recognition, support, and fair pay for ALL health workers. Globally, 70% of health workers are women, but half of their work is unpaid. We must do more to support these health workers. The glimmers of success in COVID-19 built on previous investments in women health workers, their skills, and equality in health systems. Pre-existing investments in equality helped systems respond to COVID-19. Increased investments will build better resilience for the crises that come next.

This report highlights case studies and lessons learned from 20 countries during COVID-19. The evidence shows that we must invest in gender equality in health systems to prepare for and respond to the next pandemic. Health worker training is not enough. Focusing only on health workers working within the formal health system is not enough. We need to work for equality.


At the last mile: Lessons from Vaccine Distributions in DR Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world, with just 0.87% of people in DRC having received even one dose. While the country has received 8.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, it has managed to administer 528,000 of them—just under 11% of vaccines available. In April of 2021, DRC became one of the first countries to return 1.3 million COVID-19 doses to COVAX because they could not deliver them to people before the vaccines expired.

The challenges that risked more than a million doses expiring are still in play for most of the country. In both January and February 2022, 114,705 vaccines expired in country because there was not enough investment in systems and health workers to deliver vaccines. To reach 70% of the population—62.7 million people—DRC will need to drastically scale up and accelerate COVID-19 vaccination.

CARE is working with 4 vaccination sites—2 in Butembo and 2 in Goma—to support with community mobilization in partnership with local leaders, health center operations, and training. With joint action and communication plans developed with chiefs, religious leaders, and local authorities, and additional equipment to protect health workers, those sites had vaccinated 1,132 people. In those 4 sites, we have also conducted several rounds of research and problem-solving using community dialogues between health workers and clients using the Community Scorecard, as well as the Social Analysis and Action tools, which provides the insights for this case study. The team has also supported local vaccination teams with IT infrastructure, personnel costs, and creating locally adapted COVID-19 communications plans.

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La République démocratique du Congo (RDC) possède un des taux de vaccination les plus bas dans le monde avec la lutte contre COVID-19. Seulement 0,87% des personnes en RDC ont reçu même une seule dose du vaccin. Alors que le pays a reçu 8,2 millions de doses de vaccin contre la COVID-19, il n’a réussi qu’à en administrer 881,204, soit un peu moins de 11% des vaccins disponibles administrés. En avril 2021, la RDC est devenue l’un des premiers pays à restituer 1,3 million de doses de COVID-19 à COVAX parce qu’elle ne pouvait pas les administrer aux personnes avant l’expiration des vaccins.

Les défis qui risquaient d’expirer plus d’un million de doses sont toujours en jeu pour la majeure partie du pays. En janvier et février, 114,705 doses ont expiré dans le pays parce qu’il n’y avait pas assez d’investissements dans les systèmes et les agents de santé pour livrer des vaccins. Pour atteindre 70 % de la population, soit 62,7 millions de personnes, la RDC devra considérablement intensifier et accélérer la vaccination contre la COVID-19.

CARE travaille avec 4 sites de vaccination – 2 à Butembo et 2 à Goma – pour soutenir la mobilisation communautaire en partenariat avec les leaders et structures locaux, les opérations des centres de santé et la formation. Ces sites avaient vacciné 1 132 personnes. Dans ces 4 sites, nous avons également mené plusieurs séries de recherches et de résolution de problèmes à travers des dialogues communautaires entre les prestataires des services et les clients avec la Carte Communautaire et l’analyse et l’action sociale, à l’aide de la carte de pointage communautaire, qui fournit les informations nécessaires à cette étude de cas. On a aussi appuyé les missions de supervisions avec l’infrastructure pour la connexion internet, la motivation des prestataires, et l’élaboration des plans de communication adaptes aux contextes.

Tackling Vaccine Hesistancy and Expanding Vaccine Access in Tanzania with Community Health Workers in the Lead

Since September 2021, CARE Tanzania has worked as a partner to the Government of Tanzania to improve vaccine access across the country. CARE’s logistical support has helped the government to cover large, underserved geographical areas. To increase vaccine uptake, CARE staff has also engaged local Community Health Workers (CHWs) to address vaccination misconceptions and developed improved health communication and data management tools. An initial training took place in November 2021 and trained 217 CHWs in the Tabora region. With these new resources, these health workers on the front lines have put in place two new strategies. First, COVID-19 vaccination is now integrated with other basic health services at local facilities. CARE supported COVID-19 vaccine distribution in 268 health facilities in Tabora Region. These facilities distributed 20,287 COVID vaccines in areas supported by CARE. Second, the CHWs are now conducting targeted outreach informed by local concerns to address vaccine hesitancy in women and children. Now, not only are vaccinations being provided, CHWs have confirmed that women have increased their acceptance of vaccination shots. Read More...

How Bangladesh Is Getting COVID-19 Vaccines to the Last Mile

Bangladesh has been one of the fastest countries receiving COVAX support to scale up vaccines, delivering more than 221 million vaccines by March 14, 2022. 54% of Bangladesh’s population is fully vaccinated, and another 22% have received at least one dose. Bangladesh is on track to meet its goal of 70% of the population fully vaccinated by September 2022.

Close coordination across multiple actors—from the Government of Bangladesh to INGOs like CARE to local health entrepreneurs—have been one of the keys to success. Working closely with the government-led National Vaccination and Deployment Plan and innovating when there have been gaps and challenges have helped achieve this success. These strategies continue to make sure that vaccines reach the people who need them most.

The Cost of Delivering COVID-19 Vaccines in Zambia

While Zambia aims to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to 70% of its people by June 30, 2022, the road to getting there is uncertain. The Zambian Ministry of Health reports that, as of February 21, 2022, 21.6% of people were fully
vaccinated. Vaccine doses available in the country are slowly rising, with 6.2 million doses arrived as of February 11, but less than half of those doses have made it into people’s arms. By February 23, only 2.77 million doses had gotten to people. By December 31, 2021, only 7.2% of people had gotten a vaccine, compared to a goal of 40%. Without significant investments in last mile delivery, especially for people at highest risk, Zambia risks missing its next COVID-19 vaccine targets.
CARE estimates that in Zambia, vaccine delivery costs a minimum of $17.18 per fully vaccinated person, or $7.30 per dose delivered. That is 7.2 times more than current global estimates. Even with its robust childhood vaccination system—93% of Zambian children got their first measles vaccine in 2019—Zambia has not been able to get enough COVID-19 vaccines to the last mile. Read More...

CARE Malawi COVID Vaccine Delivery Situation January 2022

“The vaccines are here but support for delivery is most needed, especially at the last mile.” – District Health Management Team member, Ntcheu
As of January 10, 2022, Malawi had delivered 1.84 million doses of vaccine out of the 3.12 million doses it has received so far.1 Many doses in country have rapidly approaching expiration dates, and if they do not get to people fast, they risk expiring on the shelves. To make sure the 1.26 million doses left go to the people who need them most, we must invest more in communication, engagement, and delivery. The $37M granted by the World Bank over the past year is sufficient for covering only 8% of Malawi’s total population. What is more, as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads worldwide, it is even more critical that more people are vaccinated now. We cannot assume that the Government of Malawi and its current health system can do it alone.

The government and other health actors in Malawi are working tirelessly to vaccinate people, while facing multiple health crises. The health system is building on a base of committed (if overstretched) health workers, an openness to community feedback, and a long expertise of delivering The government is coordinating closely with many actors to reduce gender gaps, get vaccines to the last mile, and keep existing health services open. Nonetheless, the Ministry of Health is under-resourced, and operating in a global system where the vaccine supply that arrives may be close to expiring. For example, doses of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine had to be destroyed in the spring, after arriving in Malawi with only two and a half weeks left before their expiration date.

More investment is needed. To take just one example, the national government has been able to provide one van per district to support mobile vaccination sites, to get vaccines to the last mile. Mobile vaccinations are the most effective way to serve people who live far away from health centers and do not have access to easy forms of transportation. That means that in Ntcheu, one van is expected to serve a target population of 214,929 people living over 3,424 square kilometers. One van cannot serve those people fast enough to make sure vaccines get where they need to in time, especially when an inconsistent and unpredictable vaccine supply could have doses expiring at any time. Read More...

Nepal COVID-19 Vaccine Costing Study

By December 6, 2021, 19.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Nepal, enough for 36% of the population to have gotten at least one dose of vaccine. After a rough road with unpredictable vaccine supply, the government has been able to procure several million vaccine doses. Now delivery at the last mile is the biggest hurdle they face. Nepal’s Minister of Health says, “We are not going have shortages of vaccines anymore, but our main concern and focus now is on getting these vaccines to all corners of the country, including the remote mountain areas.”

Based on national data, and in-depth studies in 2 health districts, CARE estimates that delivery costs from “tarmac to arm” for vaccines in Nepal are $8.35 (1,019 NPR) per dose of vaccine administered, or $18.38 (2,241 NPR) per person fully vaccinated.

This is nearly 5 times more expensive than current global estimate for delivery costs. These costs range from $11 per fully vaccinated person in easier to reach areas, to $33 per dose in remote, difficult to reach areas. Gaps in vaccine coverage are particularly acute for mountainous areas, people with low mobility, and communities far from health centers. Even the lowest-cost estimates for the easiest to reach areas are nearly 3 times higher than global average estimates.

70% of these costs are personnel needs to ensure vaccines reach people at the last mile. This points to a major need to improve investments in vaccine delivery, especially the health care workers who administer vaccines and ensure everyone gets vaccinated.

Fast and Fair Vaccine Update August to October 2021

CARE's Fast and Fair initiative supports countries to equitably deliver COVID-19 vaccines through four pillars: Advocate, Facilitate, Protect and Mobilize.
CARE has identified 22* countries (and counting ) with strong capacity, partnerships, and readiness to scale.
As of October 2021: 126.2 million people have been vaccinated in areas where CARE is providing meaningful and significant promotion for vaccination rollout. We have also supported mass media messages promoting vaccines to 263 million people. Read More...

Gender Gaps in Vaccines November 2021

COVID-19 vaccinations are quickly becoming a story of inequality. Gender inequality is a critical part of this story. In 22 of 24 countries where CARE has data, women are less likely to be vaccinated and less likely to feel vaccines are safe.

There are massive local and global gaps in who can get vaccinated. Only 4.5% of people in low-income countries are vaccinated, and 79% of vaccinations have been in wealth countries. Tragically, wealth and geography are just two factors that skew access to vaccines. Another is gender. In many low and middle-income countries, women are less likely to get COVID-19 vaccines than men are. This compounds gender inequality women are already facing in health and decision-making Read More...

Who pays to deliver vaccines? An Analysis of World Bank Funding for COVID-19 Vaccination and Recovery

The World Bank is one key source of funding in the global push to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population against COVID-19. Many actors point to this as the funding that will cover any additional delivery needs for COVID-19 vaccines that national governments cannot meet. With $5.8 billion in funding already approved out of a $20 billion commitment, the World Bank funding is an important part of the picture, but the World Bank alone cannot cover the full gap in vaccine delivery needs.

Reviewing 60 funding agreements from the World Bank on COVID-19 vaccination and recovery shows the following insights.

• There is still a gap in delivery funding. The World Bank is currently funding $1.2 billion in vaccine delivery—10% of the total funding allocated for COVID-19 recovery. If that trend applies to the rest of the $20 billion commitment, World Bank funding will cover a between $2 and $4 billion—well below the $9 billion that ACT-A estimates as the lowest possible investment to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population. In contrast, $3.1 billion is going to purchase vaccines.
• Health workers remain underfunded. Only 15 of 60 agreements, just 25% detail provisions to pay health workers. Of those, 7 explicitly fund surge capacity, 3 provide for ongoing salaries, and 4 allow for hazard pay to health workers.
• Countries are taking on debt to rollout COVID-19 vaccinations. 86% of the funding in this analysis is in the form of loans. That gives countries debt that may weaken future pandemic preparedness rather than reinforcing health systems.
• All funders should adopt the World Bank’s commitments to investments in gender equality. 90% of the agreements in this analysis refer to gender inequality and many make corresponding investments—like requiring that 60% of vaccine leadership positions are women—to overcome these barriers. Earmarking exact funds going to advance gender equality would provide further transparency. Nevertheless, this consistent and concrete commitment is commendable, and all actors should strive to replicate it.

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