Dedication and leading by example help in vax drive vs COVID-19

KALANGANAN 1, Cotabato City (MindaNews / 27 March) —  Midwife Bai Salma Mohammad says she went through hell to convince residents in her village  to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

But dedication to her work pushed her to fulfill her mission in Barangay Kalanganan 1, a rural village separated by Rio Grande de Mindanao and often mistaken to be part of Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao del Norte because residents could reach the village via Barangay Bulalo when traveling by land. The other travel option is by boat via the river, from Mother Kalanganan in Cotabato City. 

The 49-year old midwife, who also serves as village health officer, recalls how they tried different strategies to get their residents vaccinated.

Bai Salma Mohammad, a dedicated health worker in Barangay Kalanganan 1 in Cotabato City. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

She finally found a way through her 80-year old mother.

“Rumors had spread that the vaccine can cause early death. So I made my mother as an example and told them nothing bad happened to her after she got vaccinated,” she narrated. Other members of her family also received the jab. 

She recalls how difficult it was to campaign for vaccination. They faced harassments, especially when they revisit those who had not availed of the first round of vaccination. 

Barangay councilor Faisal Mohammad, a relative of Bai Salma, said he was the first official in the village to get the vaccine shot.

“As leaders, we must set a good example,” he said.

Faisal has two sons and three daughters, all of them fully vaccinated. Only his wife was not vaccinated as they were afraid it will complicate her ailment. 

Faisal said the requirement to show vaccination cards in their places of work, in malls and later in schools, helped convince many to eventually go for vaccination.

Fifty-four year old Lumi Macarimbang, a security guard of the Kalanganan Elementary School, admits he was one of those who did not go for vaccination, for fear it might complicate his heart problem.

Lumi Macarimbang, security guard of Kalanganan Elementary School, admits he was one of those who did not go for vaccination against COVID-19. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

He bikes to work and is not fond of going out of his village, content with his routine of  home to work, work to home. During the pandemic lockdown, he went out only once, to be with his wife in the hospital when she gave birth to their youngest child. 

Macarimbang said that was the only time he experienced swabbing for the RT-PCR test and he was fortunate the result was negative despite the fact that he was not vaccinated. 

He said other members of his family were vaccinated. 

Cotabato City voted for inclusion in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in the plebiscite in January 2019 but became officially part of the autonomous region only in December 2020. 

The campaign for vaccination nationwide started in March 2021. 

Dr. Marlow Ninal,  City Health Officer of Cotabato City admitted that the most difficult sector to convince for vaccination are the elderly and those who have not had formal education. 

He said the vaccination teams they send out to the field would tell them there was no need to be vaccinated because they are old and will die soon.

Dr. Marlow Ninal, City Health Officer of Cotabato City. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

Ninal said they worked on several strategies, including tapping the mothers, school officials as they prepared for the opening of classes and vaccination of students, going directly to the work places and engaging with religious leaders. 

He said the call of  BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim and Darul Iftah of Philippines, Grand Mufti Abu Huraira Udasan to go for vaccination as it is not “haram” (forbidden), convinced many Muslim constituents to accept the vaccination.

He said the campaign to go house-to-house helped in getting more residents to be vaccinated. 

The next strategy the City Health Office employed to convince residents was to inform them of the benefits of being vaccinated.

A neighborhood in Kalanganan 1, Cotabato City. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

“We told them, if you are not vaccinated there’s a lot of requirements needed. If you go to offices, you need to undergo RT-PCR  test which at that time was so expensive, around 6,000 pesos and the result will arrive weeks after. Since then, many were convinced to be vaccinated,” he said. 

Another problem was the political bickering during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, involving the city government which was then still under Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi and the BARMM. Sayadi had campaigned for a “no” vote to inclusion in the BARMM during the plebiscite in January 2019. 

For Kalanganan 1 Barangay Secretary Jing Salik,  the dispute between  BARMM and the former mayor put them in a difficult situation.

“We were deeply affected by the tug-of-war between the city government and the BARMM,” he said, citing the difficulties they went through in getting support such as food assistance. 

For health officials,  coordination was a major factor in ensuring residents are protected from getting infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

For Dr. Ninal, “coordination is the key factor in surveillance and contact tracing. No one should hide or keep within them the information gathered by their different units.”

Sayadi’s term ended on June 30, 2022. She lost the mayoralty to Mohammad Ali Matabalao who is supportive of BARMM. 

Ninal said it is better now that the city government is an ally of BARMM where they are helping together in exchanging information and the commitment of BARMM to fund more projects in health sector of the city.

The city health office was thankful also the assistance of the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center and the international NGO’s including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for the treatment facilities, isolation facilities, monitoring system, detection equipment and other services.

In Kalanganan 1, which has a total population of 6,543,  Salma estimates they reached the 80 percent vaccination rate despite the hesitancy obstacles and the previous bickering between the city and regional governments. 

Cotabato City has the highest vaccination rate among the BARMM’s local government units. 

Ninal estimates around 85 percent to 95 percent of the total population are vaccinated.  (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera / MindaNews)