KUJE, Nigeria (AP) — Yunusa Bawa rolled his motorcycle away from the health care clinic where he works in Kuje, southwest of Nigeria’s capital of Abuja, and secured a black box of COVID-19 vaccine for the rough ride ahead.
The rocky and rugged pathway — Bawa described it as a road that “will make you tired” — was the least of his worries. Kidnapping along the route by armed gangs is rampant, he added.
But such trips are essential if Africa’s most populous country is to reach its ambitious goal of fully vaccinating 55 million of its 206 million people in the next two months.
As the emergence of the omicron variant underscores the importance of inoculating more people to prevent new mutations of the coronavirus, Nigeria also is facing a difficult path: Only 3.78 million are fully vaccinated.
Going directly to the villagers is one way to overcome any hesitancy they might have in getting the shots, said Bawa, 39.
“When you meet them in their home, there is no problem,” he added. “Everybody will take (the vaccine).”
On Dec. 1, Nigeria began requiring government employees to be vaccinated or show a negative test for the virus in the past 72 hours. Although authorities emphasize the country is capable of getting the Western-manufactured vaccines to everyone, health care workers in rural areas are struggling, mostly because of delayed government funding.
At the Sabo health center in Kuje, a town of about 300,000 people near Abuja’s international airport, Bawa and three colleagues work in dilapidated buildings with worn-out office equipment. In the past three months, only two of them have received compensation from the government, getting about 10,000 Nigerian naira (about $24).
That’s barely enough to cover the gas for Bawa’s personal motorcycle — “the one we are using to move around and inform them that we are coming on specific dates,” he said as he held the hand of 75-year-old Aminu Baodo before giving him a shot.
On a good day, he can get to about 20 people, but usually it is five or fewer. Many rural residents are poor and spend most of their time on farms scattered across the countryside, rather than in their homes in the village.
That often means a long day for Bawa and his coworkers, in addition to the risk of violence and waiting weeks for paltry compensation. He said he is unsure when he’ll next be paid by the government for his efforts or how long his personal finances will hold out.
A 20-year-old colleague, Yusuf Nasiru, said he hasn’t been paid or reimbursed for expenses since starting the job in November.
“If you should work on weekends, you should be paid,” said Dr. Ndaeyo Iwot, executive secretary of Abuja’s primary health care agency, which oversees vaccinations in the capital. He added that government workers who go out on mobile teams should …….